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Zubin Pastakia’s “The Built Landscape” series

December 3, 2009

A Facebook friend of mine posted a link to Zubin Pastakia’s photography this evening.  I’ve never heard of Pastakia, an Indian photographer, and the link my FB pal provided initially led me to his photos of the interiors of Bombay’s old movie theaters.  I first thought I might post here about this idea of interior landscapes that we touched on in regard to Edward Burtynsky’s photos of mines, quarries, and factories.  But as I explored Pastakia’s website, I came across another series he is currently working on called “The Built Landscape.” These photos bring to mind Andrea’s post about Griffioen’s Detroit photography, decaying urban environments, Burtynsky’s similar concept of manufactured landscapes, and the possibility of reconsidering how we think of and define landscape itself.

"The Built Landscape"

BDD Chawl, Sewri, Mumbai, 2008 - Zubin Pastakia

Billboards, Bandra Reclamation, Mumbai, 2007 - Zubin Pastakia

Pastakia’s project is more self-consciously political than Burtynsky’s, though.  Pastakia comments on “The Built Landscape” series on his website, remarking that it “seeks to explore modern India’s built environment as the physical manifestation of its society’s ideals.  Engaging with the urban and arterial Indian landscape, these images contemplate the way we relate to the man-altered landscape and how it reflects us.  The sitesphotographed . . . are of contemporary interest to us as a society. . . . the project intends to encourage viewers to critically consider the built landscape and question the forces that are shaping its constant metaphors.”  So where Burtynsky shies away from defining the aim of his photography and instead wants the images to speak for themselves, Pastakia plainly states that the sites he shoots aren’t just relevant to but also reflective of current Indian societal values.  Moreover, he provides his intention of critical awareness and inquiry into who or what is shaping the built landscapes of modern India.

Bandra-Kurla Complex, Mumbai, 2008 - Zubin Pastakia

Embedded within his statement of intent is a concept of both landscape and environment that focuses on human intervention and augmentation.  Landscape and environment are both “built” and “man-altered” here.  I’m intrigued by these two adjectives and their interplay in the “urban and arterial” areas that are Pastakia’s subjects.  Is Pastakia’s use of “man-altered” as opposed to “man-made” meant to imply that the physical structures humans build are just as natural as a seemingly untouched forest in that they add to existing landscapes instead of create new, seemingly artifical ones?  What about the structures humans leave behind?  How, if at all, does this complicate his socio-political slant?

Something I admire about Pastakia’s series, which is in-progress, is its ability to highlight the impact of the politics of industry, globalization, class, and even leisure on the environment.  He effectively attacks social and cultural values through images of urban landscape.

Sun N Sea, Versova, Mumbai, 2007 - Zubin Pastakia

And even though I haven’t given it a good look yet, I’ll also include a link to Pastakia’s blog.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. jiyoungyoon permalink
    December 5, 2009 3:56 pm

    This is an interesting post, Mary! I really enjoyed Pastakia’s photographs as well as his comments on “The Built Landscape.” I’m glad that you clearly & nicely put that landscape and environment are both “built” and “man-altered” in Pastakia’s art. It was really helpful for me to formulate my ongoing thought about the notion of landscape. As I read your post, I think more and more that landscape is a sort of mirror that shows the space’s socio-political status. It is a truly contested site, rather than a “natural” place.

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