A dazzling passage to India

Jeff and Gurli Lovinger's 'Looking East' at URI Providence
By GREG COOK  |  November 26, 2013

OLD AND NEW Jeff's 'Market and Bollywood, Mysore, India.'

“The first thing I said to myself is, ‘This is an amazing picture. I have to get this,’ ” Jeff Lovinger recalls of his photo of a woman seated in a block-long market in Mysore, India. She shouts out her sales pitch as she sits behind mounds of what look to be tomatoes and root vegetables. “As I walked by I just grabbed a couple of shots as she was selling her goods.”

Part of what makes the image stand out is a movie poster on the wall behind the woman that features a handsomely coiffed actor in denim shirt and pants determinedly striding forward.

“I love how the Bollywood actor is walking out of the scene into this market,” Lovinger says. “That is showing a mix of old and new.”

It is one of a selection of large, sumptuous color photos of India and Myanmar by Lovinger and his wife Gurli (formerly known as Burma) in “Looking East: China, India, and Myanmar,” a group exhibition (with paintings by Ming Ren and Haisu Tian) at the University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein Providence Campus (80 Washington St, through December 20).

The couple run Lovinger Gallery in Provincetown, where they offer vacationy photos of boats and sunsets, sand dunes and lobster shacks — Cape Cod as visitors might best remember it. At the heart of their photography is this travelers’ heightened sense of places.

“We’ve both been going to Southeast Asia and India since the ’70s,” Lovinger says. A photo of the couple on their gallery’s website shows them both sporting long hair in India three decades ago. “India to me is so very different from Western countries. It’s also different from a lot of other Southeast Asian countries,” like Thailand, which he finds more Westernized and touristy.

The couple’s photos of India from the past two winters on view at URI don’t show the glass skyscrapers or the tech economy. It’s India and Myanmar as portrayed in one of those travel guides for off-the-beaten-path backpackers — rustic, colorful, devoid of machines except for the occasional romantically run-down train or truck.

“I try to make a lot of my photos look more timeless,” Lovinger says. “What intrigues me are the more rural areas, smaller towns — the life of the simple people rather than the business people in suits running off to work.”

So it’s an edited view of the country, but a dazzling one.

ATTUNED TO LIGHT AND HUES Gurli's 'Saris In the Wind.'

In India, he photographs boys gathered around a vender’s counter and a Sadhu — an ascetic Hindu monk — with long hair and beard, seated cross-legged with a devotee. In Mynmar, he photographs market women and fishermen, birds fluttering over rowboats beached on muddy shore flats at low tide, and cattle-drawn carts crossing a dusty plain before an array of ancient temples.

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