1. Write a visual description of the photo above using short phrases and descriptive keywords.The four key elements you should describe are: • facial expression • posture and gesture • clothing • location
The visual seems like a few western girls taking a break from a classical Indian dance form, “Bharatnatyam” rehearsal.
a) Facial Expressions: 1st group – animated, in conversation, engaged in a dialogue, interactive
2nd group – indifferent, bored, blank, staged.
b) Postures and gestures: Open mouth/hand gestures implying that one person is narrating a story, narrator, audience, gossip, posed, indicative of both closed and open body language.
c) Clothing: Exotic, traditional, classical, Indian dance costume, vibrant, bright colours, traditional jewellery, floral head decorations.
d) Location: West, trailer accommodation, not exotic, does not go with the costume.
2. What do you associate the women’s dress with? Are you making any other associations?
The clothing they adorn is the costume of a very popular and classical Indian dance called the “Bharatnatyam”. It definitely seems like these women are performing or are a part of a show based on the Indian dance. They could be a part of a cultural festival based on an Indian dance theme somewhere in the west.
3. You may be confused by this photograph because it throws up visual signs that appear to be ‘in the wrong place’. Can you pare down this Michael Bühler-Rose, The Conversation, from Constructing the Exotic photograph to a series of signs? For example, where do the women look like they originate from? What does their costume, jewellery and makeup say? What about the building in the background? Does it look like it comes from the same place?
The women come from the west clearly. The Indian women performing this dance style commonly come from the south of India where the complexion of the women is darker in colour. The extremely white coloured women here point to the fact that this is not something that is native to them. The location also does not belong to India as India does not have houses/buildings like this. This is a very western looking location. A trailer accommodation, probably somewhere in America. Definitely, the costumes are very Indian and clearly belong to the dance genre “Bharatnatyam”. This whole dance form is famous for its enhanced eye make-up and expressions of the face and gestures of the hands (mudras as they are called), which is lacking in the blank facial expressions and body postures.
4. Does this photograph seem posed to you? Perhaps it is reminiscent of images by nineteenth-century photographers like Henry Peach Robinson or of painters like Raphael.
The image looks very staged as the postures and gestures of the women are not very Indian. It definitely has a very western feel to it. Their postures are very bold whereas this dance form has a certain coyness attached to it in terms of movement of both the body and the eyes. Their body gestures are not so open and bold, even if they are taking a break. The make-up also misses one most important thing about this dance – “the eyes”. The eye makeup in this dance is much more exaggerated as a lot of the gestures are displayed through various movements of the eyes so they are emphasized in order to take the attention of the audience to the eyes. That is another give away that this is an attempt to stage an image to create one that is exotic.
5. The photograph is from a series called Constructing the Exotic. How does this title resonate with the photograph?
The photograph does resonate with its title the exotic as an attempt to recreate an exotic Indian dance but what has not been able to resonate through the pictures (the entire series) is the fact that costumes and makeup are not necessarily enough to create a perfect exotic feel. Facial expressions and gestures are extremely vital to creating a perfect image as well. In this particular image, “the mudras”, (gestures) are amiss as well as the intensity of a narrative through the eyes which is lacking.
6. Do the women look contemporary? What do you make of their poses?
The women look contemporary not only in their looks but the fact is heightened because of the lack of a vivid facial expression which is very important to this dance form and its intricacies. Their poses are very casual and aloof to the feel of what is being sought to create. Two of them are directly looking into the camera which kind of adds to the whole idea of a staged photograph. Maybe that is the intention of the photographer but in my opinion, it does lack some strong elements to make it visually stronger. For success in this image, their blank expressions and eyes need to be alive. The whole idea behind the image that is to create the exotic is well placed but more research needs to be done by the photographer to direct his models to look and feel like a classical dancer.
7. Have a look at the whole series at http://www.michaelbuhlerrose.com
The whole series deals with creating the exotic – The entire series is based on the Indian traditional costumes like saris, etc. Though the photographer has added all the elements that are Indian, like Indian traditional costumes like the sari, the dance costumes, copper/brass Indian pots, etc. I feel there is still a disconnect somewhere.
Maybe it was the intent of the photographer to create a fusion between the east and the west by creating a stage where the models and costumes are Indian but their postures, expressions, furniture, the ambience has many elements that are non-Indian. To me it is a great attempt at creating the exotic that is India, but being an Indian, I can also feel very strongly why it does not succeed to be completely Indian. That rawness that is India, the things that are natural to us may not be that easy to imitate. The body language of the women in the entire series is not Indian. The way the brass pot of water is carried, the way Indian furniture is, a lot of elements seem misplaced. Any Indian looking at it will catch it at the first glimpse. If photography is all about what catches your eye most, then one doesn’t want the viewer to catch the flaws first. Maybe I see it only because I am an Indian and it won’t be visible to people of non-Indian origin.
In conclusion, I would say that it is a great attempt to create the exotic and if it’s intentional, then a greater attempt at a fusion of the two.