Alan Dougans, a Scotsman by birth, who later made Australia his home, lives in Gurgaon since 2009. He is head of Project Management at Cairn India Ltd., supervising the Company’s oil-fields in Rajasthan. Although he has worked and travelled in a plethora of countries over three decades, it is only his recent Indian sojourn that has brought out Alan’s latent aesthetic avatar -- “expressing the frustrated artist within me via my photographic lens”, as he professes.
Alan calls his largely architecture-inspired photographic oeuvre Futuresight. These are a series of tightly-structured images of ancient monuments and modern buildings, skilfully-enhanced by Photoshop, in subdued and muted tones. There is an emphasis on monitored light-effects that are eerie, at times gloomy and moody. The results are some finely-honed, intense images, where Gothic Surrealism seems to meet the Matrix.
With prodding from colleagues and friends, he has exhibited his photo-series four times: twice at the Aralias where he lives, once at the Gurgaon Golf Club, and once at DLF Emporio. Last week he was part of a Renge Art group show at the Aralias. Alan adds, “None of these exhibitions, however, have been in actual gallery environments -- they were more in social settings. I would prefer to show my work to more discerning and ‘real’ audiences, in serious galleries and cultural centres like the Habitat. I plan to release a book next year, of my photographs of Delhi and Agra. I concentrate on lesser-exposed monuments such as Akbar’s tomb, remote corners of Hauz Khas, itinerant and unknown Indian pilgrims and wanderers, and the enigmatic ‘baby Taj’.”
Alan has not had much exposure to Indian photographers, despite being in touch with some recent work on the web. Trained as a Civil Engineer in Glasgow, Scotland, with over 2 decades of work as a Project Manager, his eye is essentially attracted to symmetry. He thus explores a range of imposing buildings, and the occasional landscape and portrait, from such varied venues as Delhi, Darjeeling, London, Paris, Perth, and Melbourne, via exaggerated angles and ‘sci-fi’ effects. The dramatic dichotomy between the ancient and the modern has made him assemble a body of work documenting both Indian historic monuments and western contemporary structures on the same visual plane.
From my art-critical standpoint, it was Alan’s less prolific Portrait series that caught my attention. He has effectively captured the lambent mystery of India’s everyday faces, in timeless, classical black and white photographic formats. The genuine face of India is a genre he must explore more intensively. By contrast, the ‘techno’ aspect is rather overtly predominant in Alan’s architectural frames, with a series called ‘Lines’, that photographs skyscrapers from the bottom upwards – concentrating on narrowed-down, matrix-like geometrical lines, rather than on literal overall views. In a similar stylistic, he has captured Delhi’s Safdarjung Tomb and Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral as if from an apparent ant’s-eye-view, encapsulating the looming surrealism of their trajectories. This vantage -point is clearly a result of his engineering background. The artistry in Alan’s photos enters via his dramatic use of light and shadow, with cloudy veneers and diffused sunlight evoking a certain mysticism.
It is the mystic aspect of India that has most inspired Alan -- despite his frank confession that “the first year of living in Gurgaon was so difficult and challenging that, frankly, I’d have left at the drop of a pin.” The photographer then graphically described to me certain experiences that left a deep, lasting, and disturbing impact upon him. “In my first few weeks here I went to Connaught Place, to try and get a feel of modern Delhi. It was unsettling enough to be besieged by such desperate street-vendors aggressively trying to sell me stuff; but then suddenly I almost stumbled over a diseased man lying in pain on the pavement -- and in the process I was nearly run over by a Delhi guy in a vulgar Lamborghini sportscar! This experience of obscene wealth, beside the most shocking poverty, has savaged me for a long time. Living here in Gurgaon’s Aralias, I am surrounded by superficiality and show, where people ‘go places to be seen’ -- to me, they don’t seem like real people. This is very troubling. I have also observed the children of wealthy Gurgaonites to be atrociously arrogant and spoilt. They display absolutely horrendous behaviour, and crass assumptions that they deserve everything. Whereas the middle-class educated people who work with me daily are the exact opposites – with deep spiritual and religious beliefs guiding them.”
Alan recounts another experience which made him and his wife Carol pause and ponder. “In Hyderabad, near the old Charminar bazaar area, an old man suddenly assaulted Carol with a stick, with absolutely no provocation. It was very peculiar. On the other hand, we have also observed the ‘White hangup’ of Indians, who stare at us with such undue fascination. When we attended a colleague’s wedding in Kanpur, the stares were positively embarrassing. We try to see the humorous and positive aspects of all this, but there is a negative side which cannot be ignored.”
Alan also makes reference to the “blatant corruption in India’s big businesses being accepted as a matter of course. As I come from a stable, transparent government in Australia, this is a real shock. Everyone must be annoyed and frustrated by this corruption in India, and although it’s a very hard job, change must take place.” He states, however, that his overall experience of India has been favourable, even though he cannot always pinpoint ‘why’. Ironically, one of the basic endearing factors, for him, are the Indian people. He views them as “deeply philosophical,” as a stark contrast to Australians, who are “very blunt, with not much spiritualism.”
In the process of living here, Alan now has a copy of the Bhagavad Gita on his bedside table every day, and has also read up extensively on the Sikh saints. The Scotsman has evidently been bitten by that mysterious and hypnotic bug called ‘India’, that transfixes every visitor, regardless of all the downsides. I ask him his reaction to Mumbai as a city. “Oh, Mumbai is complete chaos! And yet, 3 years on, I absolutely love India... Through my processes of observation and experience, India has taught me how to be more patient, tolerant, as well as forceful. India has, perhaps, matured me more than any other country.”
In summation, I ask Alan if there is any one dictum he now lives by, as a culmination of all his varied experiences... and his answer is indeed relevant to our times: “I once read somewhere that if you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said. I think this is what fuels my life now. My third year in India has changed me inexorably.” This western engineer’s ‘Futuristic’ photos of our country are another way of examining that complex Truth called India; which, though not always pretty or pleasant, is inevitably life-changing. υ
Artist, Writer, & Curator