Sammy Lee, “Shahjahanabad”

Interior and exterior volumes, interlocked

Exterior volume nesting interior volume (dropped in vertically), open

Exterior volume nesting interior volume (dropped in horizontally, rear side shown), open

Both volume shown open

Exterior volume folded in half, while nesting interior volume, colophon shown (right panel)


Sammy Lee (Denver, CO)

Shahjahanabad (Artist Edition)
Archival digital printing, C-printing, accordion fold
Edition of 15
vl.1: 60 pages; vl.2: 36 pages
Dimensions open: 7” x 126” x 2.5”
Dimensions closed: 7” x 10” x 4.25”

A few months ago, I took on a project drawing from Indian culture based on my pre-existing longing and admiration for the country. Consequently, in preparation for this work, I had already spent a few delightful months in my imaginings of India, living vicariously through the visuals of books, the Internet, Bollywood movies, and local Indian restaurants.

Around the time when this project was winding down, still unquenched and enamored with India’s exuberant charm, I ran across Josh Bergeron’s photos of Delhi, posted on his Facebook page. Having met Bergeron earlier in the year at my exhibition at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, his photography for the museum had left a strong impression on me.

Bergeron’s documentary-style photos capture quotidian scenes from the streets of Old Delhi, a modern day ghetto with a large refugee population. The images are alluring, powerful, and mysteriously captivating. He manages to capture residents’ private spaces – sleeping, bathing, cooking, working, playing, and searching resourcefully – with the transient eye of a complete stranger. I could easily imagine Bergeron losing himself in the tangled network of narrow alleys, diligently dragging his tired legs and snapping photos at every turn.

The interior volume retraces photographer’s trail within Old Delhi through the book’s viewing sequence and binding structure. Photo panels unfold left, right or sometime both directions, reminding the viewer of his roundabout journey. Rather than a finished photo album or edition, the collapsed book also looks like a casual stack of loose prints, or a pile of raw experiences. The exterior volume, which cradles and interlocks the inner-book, depicts the life around train tracks of the dwellers of Old Delhi. The images on two books, viewed side by side, create a montage of harmony or tension.

With no intention to filter the reality of Old Delhi, these immersive images often depict harsh or abject conditions, but with an honesty that is quite beautiful. One cannot help but visualize taking photographer’s place, negotiating the tight alleyways saturated with new textures, colors, smells, sounds, and tastes.

As a student, I traveled extensively, desperately seeking my sense of identity in a broader context of the world. Now twenty years later, Bergeron’s photographs are a reminder of this search for the self—no longer through examining oneself against the world at large, but through introspection within the narrow confines of a maze. The work speaks to the virtue of willingly entering a labyrinth, not necessarily to find the way out, but to let go and find one’s own direction amidst chaos.