As I bend over a magnifying glass looking at a photograph of a crowd of pilgrims in another land, each interaction in the crowd comes alive. A girl points across, I follow her finger. A group of women crowd around watching. I try to read their expressions. What is happening? Sometimes it is more clear, sometimes I can only imagine.
Here a man sits in prayer. Here two women make food. A child carries a baby. The web of interaction grows, all these little acts part of a whole. Even in this apparent chaos one can discern an inexplicable order, visible at any scale, like a fractal: from the overall pattern of light and dark in the crowd to the folds in a red sari.
As I scan across these details in the photograph of the crowd I am surprised to find eyes looking back at me. I am aware that the look may have been in relation to the photographer, yet in that gaze I recognize an awareness of each of us in our places. I know where I stand in space. My location is fixed for this moment as I acknowledge time past. when this woman looked up into a camera lens. Now as I look I remember my roots in India where I was born to American parents on Christmas day in 1954.
In order to paint representationally it is necessary to look closely at every formal relationship of value, color, and shape, from the overall form to the tiniest of details. In doing so one becomes aware of other relationships. Each subject becomes more apparent. It is a bit like seeing into a tide pool. The longer and closer that one looks the more life becomes visible.
Over the past several years I have found this to be true in my study of crowds of people. During travels in Italy I was drawn to Renaissance paintings depicting events which often included crowds. The painters I most admired: Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Velazquez, seemed to turn the limitations of allowable subject matter, specifically mythological and biblical scenes involving crowds, into works of profound visual and spiritual power in part through compositional complexity. This complexity can reflect the dynamics of psychological relationship. My interest has evolved to include early photographs, again of crowds. For this body of work, I have been looking at photographs of groups of pilgrims in India taken by noted Indian photographer Raghubir Singh.
Philip Buller 2008