Prayer and Despair
Suwa, Japan, 1995 platinum-palladium print. 8×10 inches
All the works in this collection were produced in 1995. They were first shown as a part of the Fringe Festival, Edinburgh, 1996, at the Edinburgh College of Art, in a solo show entitled “Prayer and Despair”.
Any passage is defined by obstacles. Otherwise it would not be a passage. This work considers the sublime — or a metaphoric darkness that contains all experience — as a necessary obstacle, or definer of passage and transformation. I paired the states of prayer and despair not just as a dialectical process but also as a proposition: that these states, and even religion by extension, undermine any traverse towards the sublime. For more on this, consider reading Kathleen Raine’s book about William Blake, “Golgonooza: City of Imagination” and Christopher Bucklow’s study of Phillip Guston’s symbolism, “What Is in the Dwat”
The following passage is an extract from a notebook, written while working on the project in India in 1995. There is a poignancy to this entry – it was written in the very region that was devastated by an earthquake in 2001. My immediate family has lost contact with some 300 friends and family in northern Gujarat. Many of the places and people I photographed no longer exist.
India, November, 1995. It is midweek, and there are priests, pilgrims and worshippers milling around us. Religion does not abide by the seven day cycle here. My parents are unusually quiet as we stand amid the bustle, gazing out at a tiered stretch of river. Damodarkund. They explain that this is where the ashes of my ancestors have been released over the centuries, into the still waters, along with flowers, prayers, tears, memories. Like smoke. I feel a lightness, something lifting. This is where I came from, this is where I am going. My hand is in the water, a conduit and a key.
Krishna’s words from the Baghvad Gita came to mind: “By whatever name you call me, I will answer you”.
I have travelled much, and everywhere, I have sensed a homecoming. This, however, is different. The traveller makes travelling his abode. But what strange weight descends when he feels rooted, not just by geography but by ancestry? Moreover, what crystalline breeze of cognisance passes through when he accepts this state, this unique abode?
Acceptance of anything can bring despair, and anything unbearable can inspire prayer. Kneeling down on the river bank, my hand in the clear water, I felt both.
Exhibition Introduction to Prayer and Despair
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 is a farmer and photographer. She taught at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology (MFA, 1979) and the University of Alabama (BFA, 1974). Her works are held in various private collections.