Even an untalented photographer would have a wealth of material to work with in documenting Kathputli, a neighborhood in Delhi that is home to a colony of magicians and puppeteers. Using age-old traditions, these performers long wandered the Indian countryside, but in the 1950s, they settled in the neighborhood. Initially surrounded by woodlands, it became a crowded slum; more recently, residents have been told to move out as part of a redevelopment scheme. All the while, the magic is dying—-literally, as older generations pass away and younger residents turn to pursuits more in the spirit of a changing India. Kathputli is the place where Joshua Cogan came to photograph.
In its cramped streets, he found a one-eyed puppeteer, trained monkeys, balloon vendors, and a young man who has founded a nonprofit to keep the traditions alive. Cogan—-whose previous exhibit at Sixth and I rambled throughout the globe rather than focusing on a particular community—-presents darkly vibrant images, painting with a palette of brick red, tangerine, turquoise and gold, but with dark tones almost always creeping in from the edges. Still, as you submerse yourself in Kathputli, it’s worth keeping your wits about you. At the intersection of India, the West and magic, there’s a long history of things not being what they seem, as suggested by the curious tale of the Indian rope trick, which Cogan cites in the exhibit.
Through the end of March at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, 600 I Street NW (202) 408-3100. On view Mondays to Friday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.