Hari Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

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©Hari Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

I'll Be Looking at the Moon But I'll Be Seeing You

In Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris, Brigitte Bardot as Camille runs a roster of each of her body parts for Michel Piccoli, playing her husband, Paul Javal.
 

Do you see my feet in the mirror? Think they're pretty?
Very.

You like my ankles? And my knees, too?
I really like your knees.


And my thighs?
Your thighs, too.

When every part of her body is listed, she concludes, “Then you love me totally.” To which Piccoli replies, “I love you totally, tenderly, tragically.”

Hari Katragadda

In 2012, after our marriage, I and my wife Shweta, were watching a lot of films together in an attempt to create new habits together, while getting adjusted to each other's old rhythms and rituals. One of the movies that we were both moved by was Le Mepris. The scene that I have mentioned earlier is the opening scene of the movie, but was added as an afterthought. The producers wanted at least one nude shot of Brigitte Bardot in the film, having paid a lot of money to her. The exchange between the couple is ironical -- in the scene Bardot equates love with love of the body parts. If Piccoli loves all her body parts then he loves her completely! This opening made me wonder about the nature of love and desire -- what do we love when we say that we are in love?

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©Hari Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

During that time, I was also photographing my Shweta in different domestic situations and moods. We had  moved to Bombay from Delhi because Delhi, to us, seemed to have been exhausted of all potentialities and future events. We believed nothing new could happen to us in Delhi anymore. In Bombay we were besieged by rain. For months the rain lashing at our house seemed to make us feel like an anchorless ship.

This also gave me enough time to think about what I wanted to do with the photographs I shot of Shweta. I did not want it to be a mere personal account but a more universal project on the expressions and registers of love. I wanted to address the issues of liminality, alienation in a new city and relationship and intimacy??, and the ghosts of past lovers.

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©Hari Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Taking a cue, from Le Mepris, I began with the love of her body parts. And then extended it. For me, desire is not just for body parts but the entire world, reflected and refracted through those body parts. It is about ways of seeing one’s lover, the desire and heartache of looking for the elusive other in the world around. I decided to make a photo book in which the portraits of Shweta appear in dialogue with other images across the spreads that reveal the body of a lover and relate it to the organic world, wherein identity, memory and desire draw on a universe of meaning making.

The aim is to suggest that desire cannot remain hidden inside the body. That desire creates an abyss and simultaneously leaps unencumbered like an apparition springing a fountain of images. The shadow of an absent lover can be hairy and fanged like a dog, while the screech of malignant birds at dusk and whorls of dark clouds portend doom. The cat, an animal that stands behind people on raised parapets, is like the lover who always follows us with eyes glowing with its tapetum lucidum.

Desire supports the exercise of image-making because the other is always elusive. We know them only as fragments and we understand them only through metaphors. To sum this idea, I decided to name it after the Billie Holiday song, “I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seeing you.” Interestingly, the song appears in Michael Ondaatje's book The English Patient, another inspiration for our book, about an impossible love and stresses that human beings are palimpsests, composed of several lovers and landscapes. 


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©Hari Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Shweta Upadhyay

I was involved with the book right from the editing stage, I wanted to make sure that this was not a simplistic representation of a lover's body and psyche. I was also particular that the photographs should not just focus on the beauty of the female form but should depict what is inside the body. it should bring out the messiness of coupling, the love and the squalor, and the spectres that populate and animate a relationship. 


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©Hari Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

We tried doing that through the edit, through the intermixing of real and subconscious images. There are several images in which my body seems uncomfortable and contorted, these images bring out the feeling of alienation and invisibility that I felt after moving to Bombay. The sleeping figure also suggest that the narrative is being dreamt in the person's head. This was influenced by the Urdu writer Naiyer Masud's patchy, non-linear stories in which characters go off to sleep often and wake up to a different time period. The reader has to guess between the real and the dreamworld.

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©Hari Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay

Yet, I felt that the book is too clean and does not reveal my internal state and anxieties during the phase in which these photos were taken. That is when I decided to make direct interventions on the surface of the images. The images become the background, almost the surface of a diary, on which feelings and thoughts are foregrounded and articulated. I also use paint, text as a means of erasure, while stitching is used to repair torn photographs. The materiality of the photographs had to be disrupted, and layered to reveal a complex body. One of the books that have inspired me is Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient in which a character wants his body is represented as a complex cartography, marked by old lovers, nature, landscapes, inner demons and joys. He says, "We are communal histories, communal books." The moon has several faces, lights, and so is the feeling of love. The moon is also a metaphor for a lover and belongs to everyone. We wanted this book to be like the "communal book of moonlight".

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©Hari Katragadda & Shweta Upadhyay