Introduction to Prayer and despair – Elizabeth Motlow

Prayer Flag, Bhaupara, Gujarat. India, November 30, 1995. Platinum-palladium print on Wyndstone Vellum from 8×10 inch negative

Exhibition Introduction to Prayer and Despair – photographs, Pradip Malde 1996

By Elizabeth Motlow

In ancient Vedic literature there is a wonderful, concise homily for living a fulfilling life by segmenting it into four stages. The first several years are spent as a student, with learning as the consummate activity. The second stage is that of a lover. In the third you acquire material possessions, and in the fourth and final stage, you give all that you previously acquired away, and enter the spiritual life.

This is a very apt parable for Pradip Malde’s development as an artist in the medium of photography. From his childhood days in East Africa through his years as a graduate student at the Glasgow School of Art, and on to the present day, he has shown an interest in learning about, and an aptitude for expressing himself through photography.

Upon graduating from the Glasgow School of Art, Pradip moved to Orkney, and in the grand confusion of things, this is where his learning really began, at the same time he was discovering the deep emotions of love. Pradip’s work from this time is full of intricate detail. There is a great interest in exploring the transformation of everyday objects into icons. The portraits he did at this time are romantic, yet direct, and his still lives are romantic and obscure.

It was at this time that Pradip began a long and fruitful collaboration with Dr. Mike Ware of Manchester University to rejuvenate the process of photographic printing using platinum and palladium salts. Their process is not only beautiful and durable, but it feeds Pradip’s considerable interest in the scientific aspects of the arts. It is no coincidence that Pradip became interested in making platinum prints at this time. Living in Orkney, where the sky is not above you, but all around you, and the clarity and depth of the light are entrancing, stimulated Pradip to begin printing in a way that would reveal and delineate every nuance of that light. The stimulation of this beautiful light, the sheer excitement of living, and the paintings of Paul Klee were the predominant influences in Pradip’s life at this time. He also became familiar, in his capacity of archivist and exhibition organizer at the Kirkwall Library, with the works of Tom Kent, an eclectic and prolific nineteenth century Scottish photographer.

In 1989 Pradip moved to Tennessee, and began a third phase of his photographic career. If we use the metaphor of acquiring wealth loosely, we can easily state that the past several years have been a time for Pradip to accumulate a great wealth of artistic experiences.

Not only has he begun studies in drawing, sculpture, and Japanese calligraphy, he has produced several bodies of important photographic works. These include works in color, 11×14” landscapes, photo documentary work on life in Jamaica and Honduras, and his last large body of work to be shown in Britain, “Memory, Balance, Love.”

“Prayer and Despair” is Pradip’s newest body of work. This collection of images charts a progression, which begins with a sense of terror and respect in Honduras, moves through a chilling and aloof perspective at Lake Baikal in Russia, and comes to rest, interest, and understanding at the Jain temples in Gujarat, India.

This work actually began a long time ago, with “Memory, Balance, Love”, which used sophisticated and intellectual visual elements, but lacked cohesion. It was an extremely important piece for Pradip, because it was the first large body of his work that dealt with emotional issues directly. It was a brave undertaking that both expressed frustration, and led to much more frustration.

The calligraphy of a simple closed circle, an Enso drawing which Pradip executed just before leaving for India, expressed his ideal of the way he wanted his life to go. The flower of the seeds planted with “Memory, Balance, Love” and the Japanese calligraphy, is the new work done in India. Here, Pradip has begun to reach a fully awakened expression of his spirituality; he is entering the fourth and final stage of the Vedic principles.

The way Pradip began this spiritual journey is not the way most people would choose, but he very deliberately undertook this journey with his mother and father to visit the land of their forefathers. What Pradip chose to photograph was not what was new to him, but that which was as old as time itself.

There are certain visual elements in “Prayer and Despair” which recur in Pradip’s work again and again. One of these is the use of feminine forms. Sometimes the use is as obvious as a portrait, but often it is more anthropomorphic. This can be seen in the way Pradip uses statues, trees, and disembodied hands.

His ability to see geometric forms as a pure expression of emotional and artistic sincerity and perfection is another of Pradip’s motifs. There is a perfect artfulness in geometric luck, when a recognition of the complete balance of art and mathematics meet. Pradip is drawn to this, whether it be very neat architectural elements, carefully placed objects of art, or the great luck of having four perfect sunbeams in the right place, at the right time.

This work is about the intrusion of light into our daily lives. How does it affect us? What difference does it make? What does one man’s response to the frightening and uplifting qualities of light have to do with anything? Light is not a passive part of the environment to Pradip, any more than the sky in Orkney was. Like love, and fear, and creativity, light is a tangible element to use for spiritual growth.

Elizabeth Motlow

Sewanee, 1996