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Cover Story: Blurred lines
Most days, North Vancouver architect Alan Maples draws straight lines in his monochromatic black-and-white office.
The partner in the architectural firm of Maples Argo designs highly technical research facilities with exact precision.
Mapping out a biohazard containment suite or a radioisotope lab falls under the scope of his job. He’s currently working on a project for the Quantum Matter Institute at the University of B.C., where physicists explore extremely small particles and their characteristics down to the atomic level in a controlled environment.
“Oh, it’s fascinating stuff. It’s also ridiculously complex,” says Maples.
Splayed amongst architectural drawings on a glass table in his office is a oversized print of an Indian woman cloaked in a brilliant orange sari — a window to Maples’ world outside of architecture.
Three weeks a year, Maples immerses himself in another culture with his Sony NEX-7 camera in tow. He prefers the unobtrusive Nex-7 to the digital SLR and myriad of large lenses that he used to lug around.
This way he can capture authentic moments in an intimate setting such as a remote village in India. In 2009, Maples and his wife, who is also an architect, trekked from northern India to Delhi to the most religious city in India, Varanasi.
His initial observation: “India’s infrastructure seems to be overwhelmed by the expanding population.”
Maples took a detour from the congested streets. He hired a guide that led him two hours away from the beaten path.
He was taken to Tordi — a remote village in Rajasthan, where Maples and his wife were given a warm reception by the local families, shopkeepers and tradespeople.
Maples sets the scene: “A centuries-old fort overlooks the village. Below it, in the heart of the village, a splendid small hotel has just opened, accommodating travelers with simple elegance.”
Clad in head-to-toe khaki, Maples stood out in a sea of vibrant saris. Three generations of a family would emerge from their dwelling and cautiously approach the fair-skinned, bespectacled man wearing a warm smile.
“Most of them didn’t speak English. We were doing a lot of sign language,” says Maples.
He won over the families by asking to take photos of their children first. Once he gained their trust, the elders obliged.
“At times, with many young children competing for attention, it seemed that the whole village was engaged in the endeavour,” says Maples.
His portraits of the villagers capture a sense of “hard lives being lived well.”
“I kept compositions straightforward, to allow the viewer to contemplate the subject without distraction,” explains Maples. “Each portrait of an individual or family can stand alone, but seen together, it becomes the portrait of the village.”
He admits he photographed far less men than women during his brief stay in Tordi.
“They were not anywhere near as photogenic because of the lack of colour,” he explains.
The influence of Western culture is encroaching on the village, figures Maples. He noticed men wearing T-shirts with logos emblazoned across the front, and spied an elderly man pressing jeans with an antique iron powered by a charcoal briquette.
Maples fears Tordi’s traditional values will soon become lost as the area becomes more developed.
“They paved the road, so that’s one thing. The fact that we were there,” says Maples.
Back home in North Van’s Canyon Heights neighbourhood, Maples created a self-published book of photographs as an homage to the people of Tordi.
“There was some trepidation. I felt I was taking a liberty in producing a book about them,” he says.
Maples had a couple copies of his book Tordi: Village in Rajasthan delivered to the school in the village. He later heard that his goodwill gesture was well received.
Flipping through the book in his office, Maples mentions: “Some of these I put in not because they are particularly great photos, but just as a thank you.”
He points to a picture of a man on a motorcycle with two kids piled in the back and a baby resting in the front.
“People there are ridiculously proud of their motorcycles,” says Maples.
His Colors of Rajasthan exhibit, featuring 20 framed photographs taken in Tordi, opens this week at Coquitlam’s Place des Arts and runs until Oct. 5.
Maples has shown his photos in many galleries across the Lower Mainland, including Cityscape Community Art Space in North Van.
He has traditionally presented landscape photos that capture and express the fragile beauty of B.C.’s natural environment. Cascading waterfalls are Maples’ muse, as evidenced by the six photographs of vertical drops — including Lynn Canyon’s Twin Falls — hanging side-by-side on one wall in his office.
“I’m not a people photographer, by nature,” says Maples. “India was an anomaly for me. How could you not go for that colour?”
For now, Maples must focus on his black-and-white drawings while dreaming about his next adventure.