Sohrab Hura, Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!!

JTF (just the facts): Self-published (under the imprint Ugly Dog Press) in 2018 (here).  Hardcover with dust jacket, 144 pages, with 97 color photographs. Includes hand written text by the artist’s mother. In an edition of 600 copies. Design by Sohrab Hura. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Sohrab Hura was trained as an economist, but gradually turned to photography, becoming the second Indian photographer to join Magnum Photos (he became a nominee in 2014 and an associate in 2018). In 2015, Hura self-published his first photobook Life is Elsewhere (reviewed here), which sensitively documented the life of his mother, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when Hura was just 17, and her relationship with the family dog Elsa.

The book, which reads like a personal journey and is filled with tenderness and love, became an instant success. From the beginning, the project was envisioned as a wider trilogy entitled Sweet Life. The second part, an oversized softcover, saddle-stitched booklet entitled A Proposition for Departure, was published in 2017 in conjunction with Hura’s first show, and introduced musical notations to his photographs (the text is published on his website). Now in 2018, Hura has released the final book in the series, Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!!

Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! reads as continuation of the first book, yet it takes a more optimistic turn. In terms of the design, typography, and overall structure, it follows the same format. It also picks up chronologically where the first book ends – near the end of Life is Elsewhere, Hura writes “The first blossom of the season… She is starting to do so much better”, and the cover of the next book depicts blossoming cherry branches shot against blue sky. The cover immediately sets a different mood for the visual narrative – it is colorful, bright, light and positive, and the shift is obvious.

Hura writes that the two books represent two parallel timelines where he wanted to revisit a constant space: “home, in two separate states of being.” All of the photographs in the new series are in color and reveal a different state of being, and also a different state of the photographer’s mind. The photographs were taken between 2008 and 2014, a period when his mother’s mental health started to improve. The last image in Life is Elsewhere captures Hura’s mother and Elsa peacefully sleeping together in bed, snuggled under the blanket. A similar image, this time in color, opens the final book: a full spread close up of his mother in bed, with the dog sleeping next to her under a blanket with its head on the pillow. It might seem like not much has changed. The next spread is the title of the book in handwriting.

The photographs in the series capture Hura’s mother, Elsa, and the house they live in. We recognize some of the interiors from the first book, yet the atmosphere and his mother’s expressions seem more positive and open. One of the first photographs is a full spread close up portrait of Hura’s mother, as she looks straight into the camera. There are flash-lit shots of her smoking, painting her nails, brushing her hair, and of course, following her intimate relationship with the dog (they often share the bed or chair, and look at each other). Hura’s father reappears (his parents separated fifteen years ago), and we first see his hand touch Hura’s mother as she lays in bed; it is paired with an image of him hugging her. In both shots, she looks right back at him. There are images of them embracing, chatting in the living room, smoking intently, and sleeping in bed. We learn that her illness was triggered by their separation, and the return of intimacy seems to have done her good.

The full visual narrative has many more positive moments than before (with mother smiling and looking happy), and bright colors (a yellow dress hung to dry, a close up of a bright red flower, blue walls) and a healthy dose of humor keep things lighter. An image of Hura’s father from the back flexing his muscles is paired with a photo of his mother standing in the doorway; it is arranged like she is looking at him. In another spread, the father is sleeping next to the mother, and it is paired with one of Elsa looking at them through the window. The next photo is a full spread image of Elsa climbing on the sofa as she drags a blanket on her back.

One spread depicts the mother with a camera, and the photograph on the right reveals the shot: it is a black and white photo of Hura and Elsa on the bed, both with their mouths open. Elsa died from a massive seizure, likely the result of old age, in the late winter of 2014. Closer to the end of the book, a photograph shows her getting a CT scan, and few images further on capture the mother feeding and comforting her. The book ends with a text by Hura’s mom, handwritten by the artist. She reflects honestly about her unexpectedly powerful relationship with Elsa, starting from the moment Elsa appeared in her life .“I was not prepared to keep another dog”, she writes, and she ends with “As the years passed I forgot all the reasons for not wanting her. She had become my dog and my friend a long time ago.” This text, signed with a simple “ma”, seems like a fitting end to the trilogy. The last image in the book show Hura’s mother and Elsa standing with their backs to us, the mother’s clothes matching Elsa’s orange hair. Hura’s shadow falls on the ground as he takes this photograph. It is a sunny winter afternoon, and this is the first time we see the three of them outside during the day.

As a stand alone statement, Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! is a thoughtful and compassionate portrait, and seen in the context of the first version of the story, it offers an alternate perspective on Hura’s life, his vulnerabilities, and his relationship with his mother. When the trilogy Sweet Life is examined as an integrated narrative, it reveals itself as a brave and poetic documentation of Hura’s intimate and very personal journey, the sharing of these fragments of his life allowing us to observe his growth as an artist.

Collector’s POV: Sohrab Hura is represented by Magnum Photos (here), where he became a nominee in 2014 and an associate in 2018. His work has not yet found its way to the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up

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