It is always difficult to take a photographer seriously, or indeed anyone seriously, when they say they are going to India in quest of spirituality and enlightenment. These westerners have an idea that India is a homogenous blend of temples and quaint customs. People wear their sari's in the Ganga because they don't have running water, don't ascribe meaning to those beautiful arching colors. India is not a spiritual retreat or a large yoga studio, it's a land of a thousand names and a thousand tongues, no two people of the 123 Crore are the same. In this was Maxine Henryson's exhibition From Ujjayi's Journey was troubling and smacked of appropriation.
However Henryson has managed to avoid that expertly. Her pictures are not documentary photos of holy men, ghats and sunsets; her pictures are shimmering, painterly impressions of a subcontinent that defies definition. Her 15 years back and fourth clearly left a mark on her, and her respect for the culture shows.
Henryson went to find out about Mahadevi. Mahadevi isn't really a goddess in the traditional sense of someone like Saraswati, for example. Mahadevi is the combination of all female power, all goddesses. She is more the ultimate female figure rather than a simple goddess. This Gaia from the Greek pantheon combined with Judaism's Nammu.
So Henryson's quest would be fruitless, but her journey and her tasteful, non fetishizing pictures show that, gently and with the utmost respect.
Review by John Hutt
Photos from the opening by Antonio Williams
Sanat Kumar and Rina Banerjee
Karmic Offering feeding the fish, Kapalishvara, Chennai, India, 2006// Pink Umbrellla outside Taj Mahal, Agra, India, 2008
Dusk, Ganges, Varanasi, India, 2008
Sacred tree, Asi Ghat, Varanasi, India, 2008 // Puja flowers, Ganges, Varanasi, India, 2008