The Sri Lancan photographer, Dominic Sansoni, has just published Mauritian Colour, a book of photographs taken while travelling in Mauritius for just two weeks. The book is breathtakingly beautiful. It is distilled colour, now. Pure texture, the next minute. A feeling, the very next moment. A hymn to the ordinary people of Mauritius and to the things they make, paint, fix up, and to the places we live in, work at, eat and drink in. A homage to each person we see on the page.
It moved me to tears as I paged it. From its sheer love of life, its discovery of such extravagantly vibrant visual beauty in the “ordinary”. Just leafing through the book, especially for anyone who knows Mauritius intimately, becomes an uplifting experience. And stopping to contemplate a particular photograph becomes almost transcendental.
In a brief moment of complete silence inside her shop, a woman in Surinam looks out from behind the counter of her general retailer store, her shelves meticulously in order, on her face, an expression so sad, so wistful, so full of philosophic wisdom. You wonder where the photographer was, so lonely is the woman. In such solitude.
And the perfect square black Times Roman Capital letters saying SOLITUDE STORE, with no-one in the picture, just the wooden shutters, held in place by a wrought iron cross bar, resting on iron stays, of its shuttered window. And the script: “Def. D’af...” in beautiful red caligraphy falling off the right-hand side of the photograph. Everything except the script is a rich yellow, the light catching the bottom part of the photograph more than the top, which has gradually become a rich blood-orange yellow colour.
And Mr. Kumar serene in a shop in China Town, in which every inch of space is covered with neatly arranged goods for sale, hanging up behind him, arrayed next to him, on shelves, on nails. Crowded with endless useful items. On his face, an expression of frankness, in the face of whatever life has had him pass through. His body poised and calm, his receipt books spic-and-span in his crowded desk. He knows where every item is in this apparent symphony of assorted and unlike objects.
These photographs of people are then inter-laced with photographs of texture and colour. The peeling paint of a temple wall, closeup. More divine than any gods could be. A detail of the old painted wooden doors and windows Dominic Sansoni so clearly loves. The mystery of what might be inside, if you opened the shutters and peeped in, or pushed the door, and stepped in.
And then there are the witty ones, like the brightly dressed set of seven plastic models standing next to each other in their gold-bordered sarees, with infinitely more sarees of every conceivable colour draped after having been folded and arranged behind and above the models, in layers. In some ways an utterly common sight, but that we do not see as beautiful until the photograph is before us. And the witty part is that the model who stands there proud right in the centre of the stage is quite bald. Her wig must have got lost somewhere amongst all those sarees. But how beautifully the whole photograph is captured.
All this to say that I am speechless – how can I get words to express the joy in the colours? Someone’s fence or “lanturaz” of second hand iron sheeting, painted in different colours, nailed together, reminding us how attached people are to their scraps of “tol” and “tolini”, and how beautiful they make it? With how much love people hand-paint their messages, their hairdresser’s signs, their paintings on walls in a tavern. How can I share with readers how a flat surface can be textured? The beaten aluminium cooking pots in Goodlands stored one on top of the other, reflecting the colours outside the picture. How can I find the words to express the fleeting emotion caught on someone’s face? How can one describe the direct visual contact the reader gets with Mr. Nava Ramasomy at the Taton Bar with its red and blue walls? All-at-once, in a glance, it’s as if you know him. And there’s even the mysterious expression on the hand-painted face of a Laksmi Mata in Anse La Raie.
The book is a chef d’oeuvre.
The publisher, Viz-a-Vi, has done Dominic Sansoni proud. The book design is up to the standard of its fine photographs, not an easy task. A magnificent work. The most wonderful present anyone could ever hope to receive for the festive season.