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Of faces and stories

In her debut photography exhibition, ‘Notes from the Black Room’, Maria Philipose, a former copywriter and design firm owner, discovers the many narratives of different people she encountered in Goa. NT BUZZ learns more

Danuska Da Gama | NT BUZZ

Over the last fourteen months, Maria Philipose, a former copywriter and design firm owner, spent her time photographing and interviewing over 100 people in a dark room.

And this led to her first photography exhibition, ‘Notes from the Black Room’ currently on view at Artjuna Cafe in Anjuna.

“It all began with my curiosity for people who seemed to have lived their lives differently from me,” says Philipose.

Indeed, having moved to Goa about nine years ago, Philipose used to regularly visit Artjuna Café and became fascinated with the many people she observed walking in there.

“Many of the travellers coming into Goa are living in the moment, taking radical risks, not knowing where they are going next. I was curious to know what made them do so? What did they believe? What drives them? What concerns them? Who are they?” she says. “My bucket list- driven, planned-to-the-tee-perfect life has been most productive and rewarding. But surely there are other ways to live too, and I want to live many lifetimes in one.”

And slowly, the former copywriter with Ogilvy in Singapore, who has also founded WHITE, a brand design and advertising company, began her photography  project ‘Notes from the Black Room’.

From clicking 120 faces and shortlisting 54, for Philipose, this became the luckiest time of her life. Each of her sessions with the individuals would last from 45 minutes to two hours and it included sharing stories of family, work, spirituality, sexuality, broken hearts and dreams fulfilled.

“They often ended in tears and laughter, and always with the tightest hugs,” she reminisces, recalling how all the subjects were fearlessness about laying themselves bare. She further adds that the black room played a crucial role in getting her notes; and faces with ‘that’


“There’s a magical chemistry which happens because the room is black and everything is dark. At some point they couldn’t even see me and were talking to themselves. The camera is silent, so they did not even know when I was clicking,” she says, adding that it made her realise the impact of pin drop silence through the process.

Some people, she says, actually wanted to explain and validate themselves, something, she believes, wouldn’t have happened if there was light, people talking, music playing and background sounds.

“Sometimes I would sit for days and no face would call me. It is not just they who told me their stories; I have told them my stories too. I have confided in them as much as they have confided in me,” she says cheerfully, pointing out to the faces displayed in monochrome, that has text besides it, describing in short the persona, life, etc, of the photographed face.

Philipose admits though that after this exhilarating exercise, she was initially clueless about what to do with all the photographs. “I did not know what to do with them, friends told me to get them out of my hard disk,” she recalls.

And so she decided to exhibit them to the community. “This place, this world has been wonderful to me and I wanted to give it to them, share it with them,” she says. “When I put it out, I was right; I found me in each one of them. People saw themselves in those words, in those pictures. People heard the things I heard. That shocked me. I realised how these photographs and wordings of their stories moved people. Genuinely, I did something for the first time that was not about me,” she says.

As you look around at the display, what you can’t miss is that the photographs are of ‘foreigners’, but for Philipose, who has been asked time and again why she has photographed predominantly European people, she says quickly without reservations that she doesn’t see herself as an Indian, she doesn’t understand gender or sexuality, despite the political world we are living in.

Philipose says that it was the faces who drew her in. In fact, she admits there was a point when she thought that she was only shooting older people. This was because she believed that older people would have better stories to tell.

But she realised her bias and this changed. “Young people were fabulous. They were just as fascinating,” she says. The collection now has men, women, young and old.

“For me, it is an entire spread. I do not recognise skin colour. I looked at eyes and smiles. They were people I fell in love with. I fell in love with every one of their stories and they were magical,” she says.

And while this was Philipose’s first attempt at doing something different, she says that her intention was never to set out to be an artist.

“These are all words which have been thrown at me now,” she smiles, before adding that she is mesmerised with the response of the pictures and the words. “I thought people would come to indulge me. Then I realised that even unknown people have been moved by this body of work,” she says, adding that she won’t stop photographing, but will change the way she does do. The phase II of the project will go deeper, she says.

And while all of a sudden, Philipose is ‘wanted’ in the art world, with offers for more shows, she admits that she is confused whether to sell or not to sell her works. But, she doesn’t want to follow a plan.

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