Currently being shown at the Herbert Art Gallery is Jason Tilley’s ‘People of India’, a collection of images both recent and old that explores the life and culture within the country. The exhibition is split into three sections spanning 90 years of work including pieces commissioned in the 1800s by the British government, archive images taken by his grandfather who worked for ‘The People of India’ which this series was inspired by and 10 years of Tilley’s own personal experience within India.
Displayed at the Herbert were a selection of 32 images which had been cut down from an original 10,000 images taken over the decade. Perhaps it would have been better if more of Tilley’s work was available to view rather than the British archive work which didn’t quite fit smoothly into the exhibition. After having a talk from the Artist it was easy to understand how he connected with all three elements however without his presence, the additional displays may have felt irrelevant to the viewer. Even after having Tilley walk us through the exhibition we felt as if distinguishing the three individual works was slightly tricky with a structure that did not work within the given space and an unclear starting point for which path to take through the exhibition.
On the other hand, when looked as a whole exhibition the viewer has the opportunity to compare how the people of India are represented in three different bodies of work and the large amount of personal and cultural history behind it is hard to ignore. Each of Tilley’s own photos were accompanied by a small narrative, a short passage explaining the story behind the characters within the images which allows the viewer to connect with the work and provokes an awareness of how Tilley connected and formed relationships with some of his subjects over the decade he worked in the country. Perhaps in some cases the narrative was more important than the technical aspect of the photos, all of which were in monochrome- a typical characteristic of documentary photography.
Although the personal history was evident within the exhibition and Tilley’s own photography displayed aesthetically appealing elements, it’s recommended that when visiting the showcase viewer’s start at the beginning of the time line and walk through the exhibition in chronological order.
Overall, Jason Tilley offers a narrative into the diverse culture in India and presents us with a meaningful insight into the country’s social history.