A document thrice removed





Yesterday I went to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, it was where some work of mine will be incorporated into work that Artscape has done with the Echoes Group, the opening of which will be next week – something I’m looking forward to quite a lot. However I wanted to see a couple of small photographic exhibitions they have some resonance to the notion of Documentary. The first exhibition is about the work being done to restore thousands of photographs destroyed by the last Tsunami in Japan – I have cropped one of them above together with it’s caption. Clearly the curators saw the connection between the previous Tsunami and the most recent, how the record of one was nearly destroyed by the presence of another, and with the image still covered in the evidence of the disaster this, photograph (of a photograph, of a photograph) of a photograph connects the spectator with an event that most Japanese didn’t even witness, but witnessed vicariously through a media that documented on their behalf. And here is one of those documents being presented and viewed, half way across the world on an exhibition wall as a testament to the twin disasters.

The second are some very formal prints created in Bombay (now Mumbai)



My edit of the image taken above


I was interested in these prints for a few reasons, firstly I suspected that I would be in the presence of beauty, platinum prints are usually very gorgeous to look at and these were no exception, low contrast, soft with a wonderful subtlety of tone. Secondly, these were formal portraits and I have seen a lot of formal portraits this year, in Arles with Lebanese and Egyptian. Malick Sidibe’s images are a constant reference, so I like to view these colonial and post colonial images as they generally project something that I feel is artificially aspirational, and these portraits of seemingly, a single extended family have that appearance. It seems also to bring to the fore what I can only suspect is some institutional racism on my part, giving them – the contract between sitter and image maker – little movement in my projection of their identity, as creations of, in this case the Raj.

Not especially significant in the general scope of the course but things to consider………


10 thoughts on “A document thrice removed

  1. As soon as I go back to Chicago I’ll post something funny for those who have seen this exhibition in Arles. When I was living in India, the Indian families that I was friend with often asked me , in order to remember me, to wear special celebration Indian clothes and to pose for studio photographers in this kind of settings! It was really important for them to have a glamorized and acted version of myself that they could show to others. It was really funny to do, and I liked it a lot… I think that there is a genuine pleasure for the models to be someone else the time of the shooting – having your Bollywood moment…

    • Alison and I were due to be at a wedding in Mumbai, we were booked in the Taj Mahal hotel on the 26th Nov 2008 – our friends were already inside. Our flight arrived soon after the shooting had started and we were advised to leave the country. Our friends survived and we all went back about 18 months later. The Sari Alison was given was then ‘wrapped’ on her, but sadly the tunic and turban I was going to wear wasn’t available. So you have reminded me of some very sad moments in a country that I still love and have visited thirty or forty times.

      • I am sorry about that John, this must have been a difficult moment. Where are you going when you stay in India usually? I lived in Hyderabad and then for a short time in a small village in Bengal, North of Kolkata. I have not been there in 8 years now, it is been a long time, I guess that the country changed a lot…

      • I have travelled from Trivandrum in the South to Mussoorie in the North, from Hyderabad to Delhi and Bengaluru – but never to Kolkata, which I hope to visit. Of course to the Jaipur, perhaps the most beautiful city in the world as well.For nearly twenty years I travelled there and the change is extreme and not all for the good. It seems people either love or hate India, I am in the former category.
        You have certainly travelled a lot. From France (Paris?) to Chicago via Hyderabad then Berlin – it must be high tech’ that takes you there?

  2. I follow Sue Bryce, NZ portrait photographer from NZ; and one of her suggestive approaches is to photograph what is naturally there but in a celebratory way. It connected to Stephanie’s comment and I think that across cultures a “formal” portrait tends to celebrate that “different” you instead of the “everyday” you.

    • I agree Yianni, from Barthes’ comment that the sitter adopts a ‘pose’ so why not make the pose part of the image? Celebratory, reflective – I am doing something like this on my Gesture and Meaning course with some artists – and hopefully with some dancers (though they seem to be a little shy at the moment!).

    • Do you see these as ‘stiff’ poses? I wonder if all the paraphernalia helps to loosen the situation. Certainly, it seems to me at any rate, that the Indians as a race are far more comfortable in front of the camera, have less hang ups with the their use – and now they are becoming ubiquitous they are seem at every conceivable juncture in society.

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