The latest body of work from photographer Itai Doron, Strays, confronts homelessness in India while avoiding “visual clichés”. For an exhibition at London’s Other Criteria, the artist draws on imagery from a 2006 photographic project, Yassin, which tells the story of Yassin El Messoudi and his two younger brothers who form an acrobatic troupe, and the artist’s latest publication Chokras’ Mahal - a collection of photographs capturing Doron’s encounters with Indian street boys and downtrodden, stray dogs.
Dazed Digital: What is the significance of the title, Strays?
Itai Doron: The first photography book I bought was a Diane Arbus monograph, the one with the image of the identical twins on the cover. The book has left a lifelong impression on me and helped shape my art philosophy. The title comes from a quote in the book that reads: "I don't particularly like dogs. Well, I love stray dogs, dogs who don't like people. And that's the kind of dog picture I would take if I ever took a dog picture."
Dazed Digital: The subject of Chokras’ Mahal is mostly street boys in India and stray dogs – are you drawing parallels between the two?
Itai Doron: I wouldn't like to make comparisons between street boys in India and stray dogs; I find that to be a little too didactic. When I went to India it was National Geographic images; Disney’s The Jungle Book; and the films of Satyajit Ray, which I loved as a kid, and maybe some stuff by Magnum’s photographers that had shaped my visual vocabulary of the place. So taking contemporary photographs in India was clearly going to be a tall order. How can one avoid reinforcing visual clichés and find a personal angle in a place that has been photographed to death?
I'm a sucker for beauty and the first manifestation that caught my attention was the stray dogs, then the boys. They stood out from everything else. I find beauty in what some would categorise as marginal, and I am interested in intentionally looking at problematic and what seems to be out-of-date themes and genres. Subjects such as ‘The Outsider’, ‘The Exotic’ and genres such as social documentary are not considered ‘cool’ in contemporary fine art photography. What connects the boys and dogs in India for me is the fact that my perception of both was as entities occupying marginal places within Rajasthan’s urban landscape. The connection seemed to me more akin to co-existence, of living life in a state of perpetual move, and being homeless - not necessarily because of a low socioeconomic status but as a mental state. I ended up taking photographs of dogs who don't like boys and of boys who don't like dogs, to paraphrase Arbus.
Dazed Digital: Do you find that the way humans treat animals is often better than how they treat other humans?
Itai Doron: Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar is a great film that looks at how, in the wrong hands, man or animal can have near equal fate. My work so far has been based on travel and I found that in most cases humans treat animals far worse than they treat other humans. I suppose that's got something to do with the type of places I travel to, the fact that large sections in India or Morocco live in extreme poverty, and in those parts of the world where education has hardly prevailed animals are expected to serve a purpose - to work, to perform, to become a vehicle for earning a living. Other than cows I've seen animals being treated very badly but I tried to put it into context. It's not like I've been hanging out and taking pictures of dancing monkeys and starved out dogs in Beverly Hills or someplace similar.
Strays opens at Other Criteria, Bond Street on Thursday September 8th. This coincides with the launch of his latest publication Chokras’ Mahal.