Vancouver, Canada – As part of Vancouver’s fifth annual Indian Summer Festival last July, acclaimed art director and production designer Aradhana Seth traveled the city with a mobile photo booth that resembles the carts pushed by street vendors in India. For the project, titled The Merchant of Images, she stopped in public places to talk with people and photograph them against the booth’s intricate backdrop painting of the Taj Mahal.
The project was inspired by Seth’s art direction of Wes Anderson’s 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited; the backdrop was even produced by the same truck painters. While some of her past work developed for film projects—a 28- x 14-foot winged lion, for example—has gone on to be installed as public art, The Merchant of Images is her first undertaking designed specifically as a public work.
In contrast to her experience working on Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters such as The Bourne Supremacy and Don, Seth collaborated with local Canadian artists and designers to create Merchant. The modest structure they created and Vancouver’s natural lighting made Seth’s traveling photo studio an accessible, inviting space. “What sets this apart from my work in film… is that the artist, the artwork, and the audience are all gathered in the same place, at the same time,” Seth observed.
People were photographed however they wanted to be and often fell into long conversations both with Seth and each other. The studio “felt to me like the central tree that occupies so many Indian villages and serves as a hub for meetings, a place of gatherings and announcements, and quiet reflection but also socialization,” said Seth. The photographs might be exhibited in a public space, and there has been talk of gathering of the subjects of the photographs for “a reunion of sorts.”
While The Merchant of Images is very much about Vancouver, Seth “would love to map other cities in the same way,” she said. “Perhaps I can be the wandering Merchant of Images, taking my wares to other ports.”
You can see more images from the project on social media with #ISFImages.