by Terrence Roberts - Saturday 10th March 2012

NOT FOR a very long time has such an exhibition of significant and complex realistic art been presented in Guyana, or Castellani House, where the highly professional photo exhibit ‘Coastal Wanderings’, by Nikhail [sic] Ramkarran and Michael Lam are currently on display until March 17.  

The significance of this show is representative of the quiet achievement of individual Guyanese artists working outside State or Corporate-sponsored collective art manifestations in the form of music, dance, fashion, drama, commercial design and art competitions.
The less publicly promoted or noticed work of mature individually working artists, particularly visual artists of a marked contemplative and progressive nature, seems to be continually bypassed.
A case in point is the stalled or abandoned exemplary initiative of the ex-Minister of Tourism Mr. Manniram Prashad, who proposed a purchase selection of a handful of serious and appropriate contemporary artists works for permanent installation at the fairly new Guyana International Conference Centre,  which would bring it on par with other conference centres in Brasilia, Havana, Caracas, the UN, Buenos Aires, Washington, Paris, Rome, etc, where works of a similar contemplative value have been purchased and displayed.
So far, the sample portfolio of the individual Guyanese artists’ works for the Centre are still in limbo.
Ramkarran and Lam
Looking at Ramkarran and Lam’s large, well developed photographs, one sees where realistic photography of this nature can act as a boost to local self-conscious and self-critical reflection. For this reason, most of the works merit being placed in ministerial and public related spaces, especially boardrooms and offices where meetings related to national wellbeing are kept.
The first progressive point proven by these photos of contemporary Guyana is the more effective use of reality than most realistic painters provide. Though such painters can arrange and paint scenes of their own making, these photographers actually observe, find, and capture aspects of Guyanese reality which qualify as ‘found art’.
Good art first comes from the ability to conceive of the work, not from its execution; a song , a poem, a short story, a novel, a film, a painting, a sculpture, etc, well made but weak or too obvious in conception, will not survive deep contemplation and scrutiny.
For Ramkarran and Lam, seeing is conceiving. The art is in their vision, not simply their technical skill of how much light and speed with which they photograph. They see the topic, conceive of the photo, frame it with the camera’s lens, and capture the image. Because the topic is mostly ready-made, conceiving its capture is the art part.
The actual photos
Nothing proves this better than Ramkarran’s black-and-white photo, ‘Necessity’, showing a stake in the shallows of the shore to which a rope is attached, probably connected to a beached boat not shown. The deep horizon divides the picture equally, but the abstract impressionistic cloud clusters, reflected in the ripples of the shallows, conceives the picture as the mystery of creation itself.
Lam succeeds uniquely and suggestively with one of his best photos, ‘Shooting the Breeze’, where a coastal scene at dusk shows six people: On the left, three young men, one holding what sees like a fishing net spindle like a phallic symbol; in the centre of the scene, a little boy has his back to the camera; to the right, a bicycle with two buckets on each side of its handle seems to be connected to two young women, one with her hand around the other’s shoulder as they stare off the right side of the picture.
All the figures are in shadow against a blue-and-mauve evening sky which dominates the photo. This photo opens a whole new creative possibility for a photographic series on such a local contemporary topic.
The photo’s vague reference to gender bonding, innocence, and privacy while in the open air of a Guyanese dusk is poetic and cinematic, like most of the others, suggesting that Ramkarran and Lam are acquainted with works by the best classic filmmakers, and should they transfer their talent to local cinematography, Guyanese filmmaking would leap into competitive excellence.
The key to their works’ flexibility is the spatial silence, quietude, human emptiness, architectural and landscape truth evoked by their images. The often crude interference and nonsense of humans is absent, or kept at a distance.
In a brilliant Lam photo, ‘Den Amstel Evening’, a couple on a seawall seems to be pointed to by a lone man shown through the open window of a house on the picture’s left. It looks like a scene out of an Antonioni film.
In Ramkarran’s ‘Silhouette’, a towering old Dutch koker looming into the sky dwarfs two nearby figures in shadow on a seawall, while in ‘Sky Over Annandale’, three-quarters of the photo is the sky dominating flat human settlement. This is not an invention of the photographer, but a Guyanese physical truth, like other diverse aspects of the interior which distinctly separates Guyana from Caribbean islands.
The recognition of such distinct local aspects was first established by the popular monochromatic vertical and horizontal mid-70s paintings of artists like Carl Martin, Keith Khan, and myself, who realized that Guyanese identity had too much been linked to human and historical data. These photos reassert the power of the Guyanese landscape as a comforting physical and cosmic value.
Other photos like Lam’s ‘The Decay of Power’, featuring an upward shot of City Hall’s façade, promote the still unexplored scope for local wooden architecture to be looked at in detail for its geometric logic creatively extended.
The potential for creative detail is reinforced by other photos of stools, baroque arches and fences, boats, brooms, books, etc.
What more can such objects say by detailed attention and angle of approach? Ramkarran and Lam have helped to once more open such neglected creative questions in a Guyanese structural context.
Duplicated here with the kind permission of the Guyana Chronicle and Mr. Terrence Roberts. Original article here.
Copyright © 2010 Guyana Chronicle.