Winner and Juror’s Pick (Julie Saul), Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Project Prize
“I love this project because the subject is great, and it is addressed beautifully on its own terms—you feel that it grew organically from a love and knowledge of the subject. The images are very beautiful and evocative, and the use of black and white film, which is also becoming obsolete, is so in harmony with the depiction of the theaters.”
Cinema Play House
India has a long association with cinema. The first Indian film was made as early as 1899. Today, the country is one of the world’s largest producers of films, churning out more than a thousand movies a year, with an audience of 3.6 billion people.
My mother’s family owned the first talkies cinema in my hometown of Varanasi, India. As a kid, a trip to the cinema was a big deal. With my cousins, I would venture into the auditorium and explore the box office and projector rooms. I would collect used bundles of tickets, posters, rejected film, almost anything that was part of the theater and wouldn’t be missed.
In the 1990s, home video became popular in India and movie theaters struggled to stay in business. Many theaters, including my family’s, closed down. The turn of the century saw a comeback for cinema halls, this time with smaller auditoriums and multiple screens that cater to the aesthetics of the “globalized” middle class.
When I began photographing the old theaters it felt like I was trying to in some way articulate childhood memories of the visits to my family’s theater. As I explored the subject further, what became increasingly interesting were the idiosyncrasies of these spaces. I realized that the halls were mostly designed by the owners themselves. Each theater was unique, unlike the multiplexes. Over many years of being occupied, these theaters seemed to contain cues to the psyches of the people who built and operated them: as if the arrangement of the space was a mirror to the occupant’s interior. I felt an intriguing play of elements in these spaces. A ladder in place of the screen, like an invitation to climb out of the mundane, or chairs with the seating sequence broken, bubbles emerging from a crack in the upholstery. It is these reflections, these cues that absorb me—the manifestations of the interaction between people and these spaces over time.