Tale of Two Cities: Rare photo exhibition links Italian cities with Kolkata

Kolkata, India: One city and one nation, 7,207 kilometers apart must be expectedly different. But pictures hung on the large whitewashed walls of Belvedere House in the National Library in Kolkata narrate a different tale of the two cities. 

The pre-captured set of images of different Italian cities juxtaposed with the ones taken here at Kolkata stage one-of-a-kind act of dialogue -- as if the images of the two regions, culturally and geographically apart, are talking to each other in unmissable comfort. 

Looking at the images, principally taken by three street photographers - Alessandro Rosani, Rossana Coslovi, from Italy, and Rajib De of Kolkata, it turns out that the divide is in the human mind. That it is a human perception to think two places are different, people are different, cultures are different.

The images in the exhibition prove otherwise.  

"What is remarkable is the concept that the exhibitors have upheld in partnership with the master photographers whose work is of extreme grand scale," Deb Lahiri, a Kolkata-based photographer told We The World Magazine. 

"I would love to draw the viewer's attention to the fact that all the images were taken not using a digital camera, but analog ones. This makes the shots ever-more graceful, and the mastery that goes behind to acheive such levels of photogenic expressions is commendable," Mr. Lahiri explained. 

Organized by the Italian Consulate in Kolkata and the National Library, 'From Kolkata to Italy  — Of places in Dialogue' as the exhibition is called, highlights the inherited interconnectedness, civilization carry, albeit miles apart.  

Seventy-four diptych featured in the Belvedere House of National Library is a reminder of the intangible forces that bind humanity across its diversity.

CONSUL GENERAL OF ITALY IN CALCUTTA GIANLUCA RUBAGOTTI INAUGURATING THE EXHIBITION (IMAGE PROVIDED BY THE ITALIAN CONSULATE IN KOLKATA)

The first part of the exhibition, inaugurated on March 26th 'Of Places' features images categorized into Rhythm and Reflection, Sky and Mist, Wind and Leaves, Paths and Journey, City and Continuity, Time and Heritage, Corporal and Eternal, and Memory and Oblivion between the Italian cities and Kolkata. 

The stunning photos were taken by Pollitzer-prize-winning Allesandro Rossini and Rossano Caslovi, featuring glimpses of Florentine bridges, their beloved birthplace - Trieste, neoclassical sculptures, Renaissance gardens, roads meandering between the hills and between classical architectures, the majestic columns echoing a post-colonial past and the grandeur of the Pantheon in Rome.

Kolkata and its nuances were captured by Rajib De, a city-based imminent photo-journalist who has worked with some of the leading media houses like The Telegraph and The Statesman.

Chaotic daily life and anonymity of the streets take shape in Rajhib De's compositions of the City of Joy that is similar in spirit and rhythm to the Italian counterpart.

GUESTS ARRIVING AT THE EXHIBITION INCLUDING DIRECTOR SUDESHNA ROY(IMAGE PROVIDED BY THE ITALIAN CONSULATE IN KOLKATA)

"I was thrilled to find points of convergence between two different worlds, Calcutta and various Italian cities, which seem to communicate with each other through beauty, everyday life, architecture, and landscape,” said Francesca Rosani to The Telegraph, who is the curator of the exhibition.

The images are featured in eight categories, namely - nature, ancient and modern architecture, sculpture, and habitation of Italian cities like Milan, Florence, Trieste, Naples, and Venice.

Those images are juxtaposed with the Calcutta pictures of Rajib De, featuring similar subjects like Maidan, New Town, Garia, Hatibagan, and Wellington.

Not forcefully taken to fit the scheme

The black and white shots are arranged in virtue of light and shadow reflecting the culture, heritage, reliquiae of past glory, and glimpses of contemporary life of the peoples. 

"It is about visible similarities, as you say, but it is also about the mental process which makes you think of something you never thought of, while you take a closer and more careful look at each couple of photographs,"  Gianluca Rubagotti, consul general of Italy in Calcutta explained We The World Magazine in a statement. 

None of the images were forcefully taken to fit into a scheme. 

"This was a concerted effort: an Indian photographer, Rajib De, two Italian photographers, Alessandro Rosani and Rossana Coslovi, whose photographic archives were put in dialogue, a curator, Francesca Rosani, to give a sense to this dialogue, an art critique, Sabiana Paoli, to explain the artistic implications of the exercise, an exhibition designer, Sonia Guha, to create the perfect amalgamation between the dyptichs and the beautiful spaces of the National Library. We tried to offer the viewers a different perspective on their city, and it seems it has been appreciated," the Italian Consul to Kolkata told We The World. 

When asked Dr. Rubagotti, if art inherently has the power to facilitate bonding between two cultures, geography, he said: "I think art, especially in such difficult times we are going through, can act as a natural bridge between cultures and peoples. Photography has probably the advantage of being immediate, of instantly clicking something in your brain, so that everyone can more easily relate to its message."

"THE CURATION WAS BASED ON PRE-EXISTING PICTURES OF BOTH THE PLACES THAT APPEARED CLOSER TO EACH OTHER, AND THAT IS WHY WE SELECTED THIS FORMAT FOR DISPLAY" (IMAGE PROVIDED BY THE ITALIAN CONSULATE IN KOLKATA)

Guha said the glimpses of the images took her back in time when she was living in Italy yet she felt connected to Kolkata. "This exhibition has a similar feeling. Each picture felt like they were having a dialogue and that is why they have subtitled “places in dialogue”, she told The Telegraph

"There is an entire narrative happening through the eight sets, which I would like to call dialogue. The curation was based on pre-existing pictures of both the places, that appeared closer to each other, and that is why we selected this format for display.

The moment you separate them, people see each one on its own and it holds no meaning,” said Sonia Guha, exhibition designer.

A Special Place in the heart

Born in Chandannagore, a city 60 km away from mainland Kolkata, Rajib De used to visit the city with his father during his boyhood days.

At that time, he would be agape by the city's sprawling presence; its streets would allure him, and the fact that the city is home to all irrespective of casts, creeds, and race would fascinate him. 

"Kolkata holds a very special place in my heart. Being brought up in the suburbs, I used to keep staring at the colossal Metropolitan Building. The busiest areas of Burrabazar and Dalhousie used to amaze me, the diversity at Kumartuli used to take me back and I enjoyed the sweet security of the streets to every bit. And with my father’s impeccable detailing and incessant accounts about every single lane we passed through, I became inquisitive about this place; a youthful curiosity developed that never diminished in all these years," Rajib De said. 

KOLKATA-BASED PHOTOGRAPHER RAJIB DE (IMAGE PROVIDED BY THE ITALIAN CONSULTE IN KOLKATA)

"The narrow lanes had a thousand stories to tell, undeterred by the passage of time. There was something intriguing about each one of the — hundreds of men and women passing through these roads regularly, greeting each other, experiencing each and every single day differently. The pathways are never without people in this city. Ever-busy faces dominate Calcutta’s streets — porters, shopkeepers, vendors, grocers, rickshaw-wallas, office-goers, schoolchildren, and all kinds of people fight it out amid thousand-odd hindrances every day."

Of People

While the first phase of the exhibition is enthralling enough, the second installment of the same will feature the 'Of People' dialogue between the images of Calcutta and Italy taken by the three photographers. 

"This is part one –of places in dialogue-, with a focus on architecture and spaces. In the course of the year there will be a part two, with another set of diptychs which will emphasize the presence of people," the Italian Consul to Caltuctta told We The World.

Rajib De said his images used in this exhibition were part of his previous project he began in 2008 to document the evolution of Calcutta cityscape and the more recent project he started in 2020. 

Last year he began another project where he fared the ancient ruins of Hampi with Kolkata's New Town, to highlight the contrast of the ancient and modern. 

Where to visit: Interested folks at Kolkata should pay a visit to the Belvedere House at National Library, Alipore within April 16, 10am to 5pm (Monday to Friday).

The title of the story has been edited. 

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