Madhu Joseph John – The Passenger

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Review by Gerhard Clausing

This ambitious project by Madhu Joseph John raises some challenging questions: Who are we, and where does our journey take us? Are our differences in appearance, age, location, preferences and our levels of experience really so important that we will allow them to be used as a basis for dividing us, as well as for stirring up negative emotions toward each other? As we travel through our lives, through time and space, what level of comfort are we looking for, what is our definition of home and homeland – where are the places we feel we belong?

This book has the title The Passenger, and we definitely get the feeling that the author is taking us on an extended trip. And it is not only a presentation of visuals, he also intersperses some fiction and a poem among the 73 photographs he presents. The texts, transmitting thoughts and feelings and observations by and of a number of people, who are given voices in this verbal and visual narrative, serve as a guide through this “trip” and its many little detours and surprises.

As Madhu John wrote to me, he has worked on creating this narrative in a way that allows the reader/viewer to discover much that is shared. He states, “The Passenger is actually an amalgamation of several protagonists – young, old, female and male. For example, the story starts off with reflections of an older man passing through a city, thoughts of being alone and faceless in a metropolis, harkening back to memories of his mother, then to his days living by the sea. Similarly, you may notice the other voices, that of children, middle-aged men and women, a psychologist and finally a female artist/photographer. Aside from the subject of aloneness, you may notice the concepts of imagination in the young, the environment, the absurd, motherhood, migration, narcissism, inequality and many others.” It becomes clear that we find ourselves in the middle of a stream of consciousness with strong verbal and visual components.

The interests and concerns of the passenger(s) are also our concerns. We see that the images present a number of slices of life into which we can project our own life experiences. The double pages present many contrasts – young and old, well-to-do and more modest, strong and vulnerable, as well as similar observations photographed on several continents (North America, Asia, and Europe) that show how many moments are really universally shared human moments.

We are pleased that the appendix contains a list of locations for all the photographs, which also supports my conclusion about the universal implications of this project. Most of the pictures are duotones; the author and the designer also interspersed color images into the narrative at certain pivotal moments; this introduces splashes of exuberance and more emotional differentiation and variation to the sequences of respectful observations of folks in their homes and on the street. One may also interpret this as contrasts between idealized environments versus the stark realities of everyday life and more somber contemplation. Tack-sharp images are supplemented by some others that show blurred-motion ambiguities, transporting us to realms of the subconscious and beyond, through various levels of uncertainty, maintaining our attention throughout the book. Some images are marked by unusual viewpoints and/or framing. The viewer/reader, as is often the case, plays the role of the outsider.

I recommend The Passenger to all who would like to take an emotionally and intellectually challenging journey and want to contemplate the implications of our shared voyage(s).

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Madhu Joseph John – The Passenger

Photographer: Madhu Joseph John (born in Madras, now Chennai, India, resides in California)

Self-published, © 2019

Prose and Poetry: Madhu Joseph John

Text: English

Hardback with illustrated cover; 110 pages, paginated, with 73 duotone and color images; index of locations; 9.75 x 8.75 inches (25 x 22 cm)

Photobook Designer: Rukminee Guha Thakurta, Letterpress Design Studio

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