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Posted by debkamalg at 2005-01-04 09:12 AM
Here is a primary reflection on the colonial photographs of India provided as an exercise in the first module. I also could see the related site of colonial photographs of Africa and a review on the book 'Colonising Camera'. The 'type photographs' were taken with rigid frontality along with skull featuring profiles, naked anatomical full shots, in colonies be it in India or Africa to create more data for 'Racial Evolution' theory. The human being in the photograph was been reduced to mere objectification as the photographs were just samples (like a rock sample for a geologist, or an insect pinned to the slide for a biologist). The six photos in discussion are quite different from this 'type'. The first three photographs are of white people taken in colony, so a specific relationship to the backdrop and the white person as the central figure can be observed specially in the first two photograph. The white child in the Pix 1 and the white lady in Pix 2 are differentiated with the visual milieu by their posture and probably also by their gaze towards camera (the gaze is not very clear due to the distance of subject from the camera). This direct gaze serves as a kind of authoritative connection between the subject and the optico-mechanical tool (camera), which is specially evident in Pix 3, where a representative of colonial administration is directly looking towards the tool he employed to photograph himself with erect posture and projected weapon. One other thing which is mentionable in Pix 1 and 2 is the native horse attendant, he is almost merged with the body of the horse. Possibly he was only there to control the horse during long exposure of the camera and to eliminate his presence, he was reduced in to sort of unwanted prop, though highlighting in other way the native men's service towards the white colonisers. Pix 4 and 5 portray native subjects as points of curiosity. The bearded man with his playing instrument and the naked lady (with a suggestion of cloth) both are looking away from camera. The forced nature of taking these pictures are apparently clear from their gazing away from the zone of operation. Here one point can be mentioned, possibly their way of looking was also governed by the photographer and possibly to simulate a situation where they can be viewed as inert, indifferent subject, specially in case of Pix 4, who were not entangled in a power equation with the camera. But their gazes away from the space hints to that domination of camera and the 'secular idea' of the photographer was this way subverted by their looking away from the camera. Pix 5 is a clearer case of not only colonial domination but gender domination as well. The nature of camera as a phallic tool is clear in its portrayal of frontal, objective nudity. However this picture has some strange resemblance with the kind of nude model studies of oil painting classes to facilitate the understanding of human anatomy for the artist. So this picture can be treated as a metaphor for the merger of European perspective as a notion of art of realism and reality recording instrument, camera. Pix 6 is a scene of the native royalties, but they are distanced from the camera in a way to suggest that the frame of the picture possibly was not governed by them. It has also a metaphorical quality (obviously if one intends to see in the following way) that the colonising camera did arrive in the native soil, but the royalties were yet to appropriate it and still being framed in the indigenous two-dimensionality.
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