You’d imagine that while we set up the cover shoot at the home of one of India’s most prolific painters, Padma Shri Paresh Maity, it would be his 1981-born, millennial son, top photographer Riddhibrata (‘Rid’) Burman, who would intervene with his expertise. But instead, Paresh oversees it all.
“I think this needs a warm tone,” he tells HT Brunch cover photographer, Shivamm Paathak, as he inspects the test shot. However, he moves away when his son arrives, calling Rid by his daak naam.
We are at Paresh’s home and studio in New Delhi, to interview father and son on art and artists. One of them wears a beret and one a beanie—“We have signature hats,” comments Rid—and both have distinct styles of dressing. But when they speak to each other, it’s clear there is much love between the two.
What was it like, growing up in a house with two artists (Rid’s mother is Jayasri Burman, the contemporary Indian artist) and so much creativity?
“Speaking purely as a photographer, it’s a blessing and a curse at the same time,” says Rid. “My point of view for any job always comes with a very strong art perspective, which most of the jobs don’t need! So at some points it’s been limiting, because I land up only working in fields that relate to art. But it’s filled me with knowledge and depth and that’s definitely left a very interesting scar. I really am very lucky to have been born into this family.”
After studying in Mayo College, Rid went to St Stephen’s College, Delhi, studying Maths Honours of all things! Later however, he followed his passion and enrolled in the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography in the USA. This couldn’t be more different from his father’s upbringing.
“I come from a very humble background,” reveals Paresh. “There was not even a symbol of art anywhere. Art was not fancy or fashionable, it was rather that, ‘if you do art, khana nahi milega, bhooka marega’.”
In spite of that he found his métier, beginning with clay modelling and sculptures. “The neighbours used to say, ‘iska kuch hone wala nahi hai!’ But my parents weren’t bothered. They were just, ‘nahi hoga, toh nahi hoga’.”
Did this help him put together his own parenting style? Maity is adamant that he never imposes anything on anybody, least of all Rid. But he does have an emphatic point to make.
“Because I was a good student, there was a conflict between my ideas and those of others, especially people like my father’s colleagues. So after my higher secondary, I ran away from home,” says Paresh. “Of course, I went back, but then I joined art college, because I’d started to realise that academic education is very important. I studied fine arts for seven years, then my luck brought me to Delhi for an exhibition, and then I got into Delhi College of Arts for my post-graduation.”
Even now he insists that academics is the key to every career, even art. He does, however, add a caveat: “At the end of the day you also need emotion. That gives your art another dimension.”
With such different perspectives, it’s no wonder that Paresh’s and Rid’s working styles are different. “It’s like the North Pole and South Pole!” exclaims Paresh. “Photography composition and painting composition are very different. I used to—I still do—take photographs and there is no relation between my photographs and my paintings. So my looking at Venice through a camera is very different from when I look it as an artist, to paint.”
“But there’s one major similarity,” Rid chimes in. “We both shoot with very old cameras; we both prefer printing, going back 30 years.”
In those past 30 years, if there’s one thing the family has done together, that’s travel. They go, according to Paresh, “Wherever we get creative food, creative urges. We go to Varanasi, Rajasthan, Italy and Venice. We visit museums; we’re always searching for art and culture.”
What about when Rid was younger? “He loved to travel with us,” reveals Paresh. “Every summer! We’d go to Shimla or Rajasthan, so my learning happened a lot with him,” says Rid, as his father continues, “Even today, when we travel together, taking photographs, he’s exposing maybe 50 films, I’m exposing 20 because I’m painting also. We love to travel together!”
Although perhaps not always. “When I was at Stephen’s and living at my parent’s house, I would wait for them to go on holiday so I could do all the badmaashi,” Rid laughs.
Did the decision to follow creative paths come easily to father and son? Rid answers at once. “If I hadn’t picked up photography, I probably would have been a musician! Or maybe—you’d laugh—maybe I’d have been a stockbroker.” he confesses, almost sheepishly. “I’m damn good at it!”
Paresh’s answer is as definite as it is revealing. “At the age of seven, I decided I wanted to be an artist. I was very sure that this was the only thing I wanted to do. But very amazing, that dream at that age. I had no clue what I’d be doing. I just knew I had to make very good art.”
I’m eager to know if either of them has a favourite work of art that the other has made. Their answers are almost identical: “How can we pick just one?” Maybe one that was in your childhood home, I press, looking at Rid.
“One of the ones I really love is The Tree of Life; that’s very special,” he says, finally.
You can see the Tree of Life at one of Paresh’s two shows currently running simultaneously in Kolkata—at CIMA Gallery and Birla Academy of Art and Culture—showcasing work that spans four decades, including watercolours, drawings, sketches, and a sound installation. There‘s also a 26-foot-tall bull installation, and a life-sized tempo moulded and cast in brass.
Rid, meanwhile, is working on a book with his wife, Laura, with whom he resides in Paris. “It’s purely visual. It’s our reaction to nature—we’ve been travelling to a lot of remote areas—and how our relationship was affected there.”
As I end the interview, I’m curious. What challenges Rid behind the camera? He laughs. “I just hope I’ve got the damn thing in focus!”
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From HT Brunch, November 21, 2021
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