A bonanza of world imagery
An inquisitive monk looks to the side, while his fellow monks remain deep in prayer during the celebration of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, at Norbutse Bon Monastery near Kathmandu. Picture: Art Wolfe.

Indian photographer Sohrab Hura says he prefers images that tear his heart out from the inside. "It is very important to me photography doesn't allow the viewer to remain the same after having seen it," he says.

Hura is the youngest of three Indian photographers visiting Perth among an international, national and local contingent for the monumental FotoFreo exhibition Divergence: Photographs from Elsewhere.

Divergence features 600 works from about 70 leading and Magnum Foundation photographers at the historic Midland Railway Workshops, a developing arts hub under a partnership between independent cultural organisation FORM and the Midland Redevelopment Authority.

The participating photographers hail from as far afield as Argentina, Britain, US, South Africa and Australia. A rich public program of talks offers a rare opportunity to delve into some of the creative minds behind the captivating imagery on show.

Divergence marks the beginning of FORM's cross-cultural Australasia project, and a new partnership between FORM, with the support of BHP Billiton and FotoFreo.

It is the biggest show in the month-long biennial FotoFreo program and one of the biggest to be seen in the State. Few venues could accommodate the sheer volume of works, but in a 200m-long building at the Midland Railway Workshops - so large that a pole-vaulter practises there - it's a cinch. In fact, there's room to spare.

The freedom of space reverberates in the creative freedom Hura chases in his work. Large black-and-white prints more than 1.5m wide elegantly reveal exuberant, frenzied religious festivals, caste hierarchies, and the inner sanctums of worship and mourning, projecting an India far from the popular gaze.

At 30, his accolades include a Magnum Foundation grant, selection in the prestigious World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in 2009, twice winning the Indian Press Award and exhibitions around the world.

Speaking via Skype ahead of his visit to Perth, Hura says he first trained as an economist at Delhi University and the Delhi School of Economics, taking up photography during a difficult study period. He admits it's an unconventional switch. "I wanted to study economics, but I found it a very heartless subject. It made me feel really good to look at the photographs I had taken. I felt I had created something. I thought it was really me, and I needed to do it more."

His compatriots engage in their own personal conversation with India. Bharat Sikka moves between the street and the commercial world of high-end photography with assignments for Vanity Fair, Vogue India and The New Yorker. His intimate portrait of Carla Bruni for her No Promises album cover is in contrast with his Matter series shown in Divergence, where objects cram the composition, and a deep sense of longing projected in portraits is equally complex.

Ketaki Sheth offers a female view of street life in India with her silver gelatin series Twinspotting.

Sharmila Wood, co-curator of Divergence with Andrew Nicholls, says Sheth is a real pioneer. "Sheth is one of the first women photographers in India to photograph street life in Bombay, and has been very important in the photography scene."

Away from India, sobering images from 26 members of The Atomic Photographers Guild, scattered across eight countries, serve as a grim reminder of life and death in the nuclear age. But you'll be uplifted by the kitsch fantasy world of Moscow-based photographer Vita Buivid, who uses a reproduction of Ivan Shiskin's Morning in a Pine Forest, once owned by nearly every Soviet household, with comic effect. Or pause for thought and concern at the work of Sri Lankan-born Australian-based Jagath Dheerasekara, who recorded the spirit of the Manuwangku Aboriginal community, 120km north of Tennant Creek, visually imploring their right to live in traditional lands free of nuclear waste.

The world bonanza of imagery also has a strong local flavour, with works from Balingup-based Sam Harris, previously a high-voltage London music celebrity photographer, using multimedia projections and much more.

Stepping outside photography is a new work by choreographer Jacob Lehrer, performed on the sand floor of the foundry, and the chance to view the innovative designs of Alex Fossilo, his seemingly fragile furniture, some based on insects, on show in the Water Tower studio of the old pattern-making building.

The smell of grease still pervades the Midland Railway Workshop buildings nearly 20 years after construction and maintenance of trains at the site ended. Much has been left as it was the day workers left the buildings - pattern-making apprentices' tests hanging from the ceiling. A Dickensian-style windowed office conjuring images from Great Expectations is full of multiple small drawers for a card filing system, still intact. Dust is everywhere.

Only an early 1990s computer in a corner provides a clue to the time of its last use. "It's easy to visualise the hive of activity, a hub of industrious labour echoing through the walls," Wood says. It's also easy to think the many migrants who spent their working lives in the buildings would somehow approve of an array of world cultures on the site again.

The freedom of space reverberates in the creative freedom Hura chases in his work. Large black-and-white prints more than 1.5m wide elegantly reveal exuberant, frenzied religious festivals, caste hierarchies and the inner sanctums of worship and mourning, projecting an India far from popular gaze. <div class="endnote">

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The West Australian

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