A unique gallery display shows a photographer’s journey through 2020’s lockdown months in the form of screenshots from video calls
Of the many things that the COVID-19 pandemic taught us, the importance of human connection ranks high. The lack thereof, is perhaps the most excruciating phase for many who live alone through the pandemic. The presence of a loved one in the house, as simple as it sounds, remained gravely underrated until now. It has made even a recluse like Mumbai-based photographer Rema Chaudhary crave companionship. For many introverts, the first few months were almost a relief, a happy deviation from unavoidable social interactions. But as time passed, everyone scrambled for pockets of comfort and familiarity within their own homes. And, devoid of human presence, warm hugs and pointless yet comforting background noise, lonely days followed. After the initial months of isolation, Rema too went in search of a happy bubble of memories, which is what led her to reconnect with an ex-partner, Taha, who resides in Toronto, over video calls. In the beginning, checking in on each other was the norm. But as days similar to the previous ones went by, each other’s presence mattered more than conversations. As mundane day-to-day activities carried on, lit screens provided solace. Soon, to document this experience, Rema started taking screenshots of these video calls: most frames show one of them engaged in a mundane activity like folding laundry or doing dishes, while the other looks on. The result was 300-odd frames captured from May 2020 to September 2020, the peak lockdown months. In August, Rema identified a narrative that could perhaps make this collection a book. “It was just going to be a book. I realised that we had a whole archive and I wanted to do something with it. And, I decided to print them and put them up on my wall. Sahil [Arora of Method Art Gallery] had come over and said it would actually look good when displayed in the same way,” says Rema, of the inception of Alone, Together as a photographic series that is currently on display at Method, Bandra.
The narrative starts with Taha’s morning and Rema’s evening since there was a twelve-and-a-half hour time difference between the two. It travels through 24 hours of each of their days. Instead of page numbers, the passage of the narrative is marked by time stamps. And, none of the frames are deliberate or performative, adds Rema. The technical aspect of displaying screenshots which are of lower resolution than professionally shot images, did not bother her at all. “In my other work, I am a perfectionist but it was really fun to not care about composition or colour correction for once,” she says. In fact, the pixellation and low resolution add many layers to this reflective piece of work, adds Rema.It is easy to misinterpret this as voyeurism, says Rema, adding that her frames have purpose in times of shared distress. “What I hope to have captured is not salacious voyeurism but two people fulfilling the very human need of wanting to be witnessed in our most raw and unfiltered states.”More than it being work, the series has helped Rema introspect through the lockdowns. “This has been a great exercise in taking control and putting myself out there. I have sort of overcome many inhibitions about myself through this work,” says Rema. A presence in the house, even though virtual, had helped her with simple things like taking a break or even seeking advice. “It’s like having a voice in the next room for you to scream out to,” she says .Alone, Together will be on display till April 15 at Method, Bandra. The photo book can be viewed at Method’s website.