White Sheet Series No. 1 / Stephen Dupont



This body of work is a selection of portraits I made in 2010 at India’s most important Hindu festival called the Kumbh Mela. In one of four locations every four years Hindu pilgrims and visitors descend into the holy waters of the Ganges River to purify the soul in a spiritual ritual considered the largest peaceful gathering in the world. The photographs were taken in Haridwar of pilgrims and sadhus I chose randomly during that festival.

Inspired by an earlier series I made of anonymous portraits of Afghans in Kabul titled Axe Me Biggie, or Mr Take My Picture, but instead of an existing Afghan outdoor studio backdrop I chose the white sheet this time for its purity and simplicity. My subjects were asked to simply stand and pose before my camera. I use a white bed sheet to create an outdoor studio that not only captures my subject but also allows me to reveal the audience gathering and the environment around the sheet. This is meant to give the viewer a real sense of place and time, and a window onto the streets of Haridwar. Had I used the backdrop in a conventional way, to solely isolate a person, you’d have the impression that they were taken anywhere — New York, Sydney, or in a studio. This process is a creative choice and allows me with some control over my sitter but brings with it the spontaneity and surprise of what may take place around the zone I am working in: the gaze of someone holding the sheet that has no idea they are in the frame, or a hand holding the sheet or something else that crops up in front or behind. In the end my portraits are environmental or even landscapes.

Over many years of travel throughout India I have been collecting textile stamps and I decided to use them on my photographs. The research and experiments started in my field journal and then to the final hand printed images in this show. I wanted to create a relationship with Indian design and cloth, the Polaroid borders and the people in my pictures. Much like my photographic practice here the wood block printing was made with much spontaneity and feeling. The photographs have been handcrafted by Chris Reid at Blanco Negro using warmtone paper and processed in a specialised developer for unique tonality.

Stephen Dupont
Sydney, February 28, 2014