Koch, Lewis, 1949- / Lewis Koch ; notes from the stone-paved path : meditations on north India
Elder, Joseph W.
[Foreword] A brief meditation on Notes from the stone-paved path, pp. 8 and 9-10 and 11
Page 8 and 9
Joseph W. Elder Professor of Sociology and of Languages and Cultures of Asia University of Wisconsin-Madison July 2003 FOREWORD A Brief Meditation on Notes from the Stone-Paved Path Any representations of India are, in an ultimate sense, reflections of the representor. India is so complex, ancient, unitary, variegated, assimilating, reinterpreting, and innovating that anyone attempting to depict it understands it only through tiny, episodic, ultimately sub- jective glimpses. As Lewis Koch himself states, "Each impression, each image, each page of text is, by definition, a highly edited, subjective view of a real place or idea." So there is nothing especially unusual about the subjectivity of Koch's photography and the project as a whole. What is impressive, however, are the form and contents of his subjectivity. The subjectivity of this work takes its form in brilliantly printed black-and-white photographs, in the passages he has selected from a wide range of written sources dealing with India, and in the essential and subtle process of pairing these two elements. All of the images in the exhibition were made by Koch in northern India. Several of them are from Dharamsala and vicinity in the foothills of the Himalayas where he lived and worked for nearly a year in the Tibetan Buddhist community there. The subjects of his photographs are often strikingly common: soda bottles hanging in a refreshment stall, roadside advertisements, a pan of boiled milk in a sweets stand, scraps of posters on a many-layered signboard, the carcass of an animal behind protective netting in a butcher shop, a painted '7th Up' soda sign, a string draped over a nearly-invisible wire, a concrete drainage pipe in an open field, a room in a medical clinic featuring a portrait of Gandhi. A few of the subjects are at familiar India tourist sites: the iron pillar at New Delhi's Qtab Minar, the famous temples at Khajuraho (with a man sleeping in the foreground), the giant astronomical structures at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar outdoor observatory, the Taj Mahal in Agra (so shrouded in mist as to be almost invisible), Tibetan prayer flags, and a monk in Dharamsala. After returning to the United States from his sojourn, Koch selected, rather intuitively yet deliberately, the passages he paired with his photographs from a wide variety of texts: using for instance, a 19th-century travelers' guide, contemporary poetry and translations of Sanskrit poems, Tibetan Buddhist and sacred Indian teachings, Indian erotica, modern short stories, a passage written by Mahatma Gandhi, esoteric Hindu astronomy, works by contemporary India scholars, a page from E. F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, movie scripts, autobiography. The contents of Lewis Koch's representations of India come from the juxtapositions of his photographs and his texts. A luminous photograph of small frogs floating in the clear water of a stone tank is accompanied by a page from The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects describing the co-existence of two worlds: reality (the world we con- tact but cannot adequately describe) and mental formations set in motion by our assump- tions (but never identical with them). A photograph of a boy-worker with welder's protective glasses is adjacent to a text by Mahatma Gandhi praising the spirituality of India's ancient villages and regretting the fact that today's workers have become automa- tons unable to feel the simple joy of their labor. Similarly, an arcane nighttime photo- graph of a city street with a four-wheel cart hauling a generator linked to lighted fluorescent tubes is paired with a passage from Cradle of the Clouds; in the novel, village elder conclude that since Buddha did not require gas and electricity, they do no require gas and electricity. Further along in this nuanced sequence, a photograph of a string draped around a nearly-invisible wire is placed beside an excerpt from Walt Whitmans's Leaves of Grass in which the American poet asserts that "all things seen are real," and independent of any knowing individual. A passage in which the Dalai Lama suggests that if everyone were perfect, our existence would have no justification is paired with a photograph of a con- crete drainage pipe (on which is scrawled, in English,"I Love you"). Then there is an inti- mate photograph of a man sleeping on the steps of a temple at Khajuraho accompanied by a page from an encyclopedia of Indian erotica indexing "unions," "vagina," "wives" and "women." A final example, the photograph of a stone path (from which the exhibition gets its name) traversing a Himalayan hillside is aligned with a discussion of quantum mechanics and its relation to Eastern and Western notions of ultimate, irreducible physi- cal and conceptual patterns. As an outsider who has specialized in studying India, I might be able to add tidbits of information for the benefit of others viewing this work. For example, the reason the man in the photograph at the Qtab Minar is trying to touch the tips of his fingers as his arms encircle the iron pillar is because that will bring him good luck (so he, and I, have
Foreword Copyright 2003 Joseph W. Elder, Photographs and Introduction Copyright 2003 Lewis Koch, Afterword Copyright 2003 Vinay Dharwadker.| For information on re-use, see http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Copyright