Central Memorial Park project earns Calgary photographer spot in New York exhibit

It started with a quarantined photographer looking out the window, at scenes in the park below. It has turned into a prestigious project and a chance to display her work in New York’s International Center of Photography.

Photographer Twinkle Banerjee still can’t believe that one of the very first photos she snapped not only inspired a whole project of her own —called Characters of Memorial Park — but it’s now on exhibit at the International Center of Photography (ICP).

“The first photo that I took, it was just two people having a picnic in the ‘golden hour,’ where the sun was just setting. And that was the first photo, no editing, nothing, no retouching,” Banerjee said.

“It’s just whatever I took, the first one, and that kind of, you know, I guess got a lot of attention, and somebody picked it up in New York and then it ended up getting exhibited there.”

This image from Twinkle Banerjee’s series Characters of Memorial Park has won a spot in an International Center for Photography exhibit called #ICPConcerned: Global Images for Global Crisis. (Twinkle Banerjee)

Calgary photographer Twinkle Banerjee has one of her photographs of Calgary’s Central Memorial Park on exhibit in New York’s International Center of Photography. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Banerjee said she is happy that Calgary will be represented in the exhibit that focuses on the global epidemic. It’s called #ICPConcerned: Global Images for Global Crisis, and features submissions from around the world. ICP itself is a centre that champions socially and politically minded images and celebrates the photographers who pursue them.

“Gettting to represent a story from Calgary on that level … New York is the centre, in a lot of ways, a big cultural hub, and ICP is huge. And they were getting photographs from Norway and India and Mexico — all over the world,” Banerjee said. “So to be able to get to represent Calgary in New York, I think that was very exciting, a very proud moment.”

Banerjee told CBC’s Justin Pennell that she hadn’t set out to start a project when she picked up the camera and stepped out onto her balcony that spring day.

(Twinkle Banerjee)

“It happened right in the beginning when the pandemic had just started, and we were under a lockdown. My mother had just moved from India to visit me,” she said. 

“My mom would constantly come, and whatever she was seeing in the park she would tell me these stories all day, that there was a wedding happening or there were kids dancing, and it kind of started to get annoying, actually, her telling me the stories over and over. And eventually I just picked up her binoculars, which were kind of lying around the house, and I just started to play around with it and see if I could somehow magnify the people that were coming to the park every day.”

(Twinkle Banerjee)

(Twinkle Banerjee)

Banerjee soon noticed that even though there were two or three stories happening in the park at any given time, by putting them in the centre of her binoculars, each moment was isolated in time.

“Things that people were doing, children playing in the park or people having a wedding, each story kind of became important on its own. And this project kind of helped me see people and them going on about their lives very, very differently,” she said.

(Twinkle Banerjee)

“There’s a lot of beautiful, romantic moments. A lot of beautiful moments with kids and parents. When you photograph people, you’re photographing human emotions, and I think it doesn’t change. I mean, a hundred years from now, people can still relate to those things.”

Banerjee didn’t set out to record a key period in time, but that’s what happened.

“I was just thinking, how do I record this period that is happening in front of us? I think as an artist it’s very important for me to find a way to document what is happening,” she said, adding that documenting those moments brought her a great deal of happiness.

(Twinkle Banerjee)

(Twinkle Banerjee)

And in a way it gave her some optimism for the future.

“I think we’ll survive,” Banerjee said. “I think when I photograph these people, I think today it’s very important what’s happening. But I think a few years down the line, we’ll be looking at it very differently.”

For more information on the New York exhibit, go to ICP New York’s #ICPConcerned Global Images for Global Crisis Exhibition here

(Twinkle Banerjee)

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