The FiP workbook (p. 83) asks us to analyse a picture and in doing so answer a set of questions. Though I read through them beforehand I deliberately did not undertake any research into the image or the work of the photographer, Michael Buhler-Rose.
Michael Buhler Rose: “The Conversation”
My plan was to see what I read into the image by answering the six questions in the workbook before addressing question seven which requires looking at Buhler-Rose’s website. I felt it was important not to be influenced by what I might discover on the site but to discover if my thoughts and observations aligned in any way with that of artist himself.
My approach has been to make brief notes on the questions on a sheet of A4 with the image, called ‘The Conversation’, printed in the middle. As can be seen this allows elements within the image to be directly linked to my text through a series of lines and arrows. As a method this seems to work quite well but I acknowledge it is not the same as an academic essay.
This first scan answers Question 1
The second scan takes on Questions 2 – 6
Having visited Buhler-Rose’s website and looked at all 23 photographs in ‘Constructing the Exotic’ I feel my initial thoughts were not too far of the mark. The notes for the series are reproduced here:
This series explores the conventions of the figure in painting and photography through the lens of historical colonial and Indian art. By placing the unfamiliar within the familiar the door is opened to questioning the identity of the “exotic other”.
In these images western women who were raised either within the Indian subcontinent itself or simply born into its socio-religious heritage become, in one sense, the “other”. Their placement, the familiar contemporary western cultural landscape, draws the viewer into their world and pulls at the seams of the notion exotic.
Some of the series of portraits of women alone – the costumes and jewellery by the way are those of dancers from an Indian tradition. “The Conversation” is one a small number in the series that represent a narrative (or should that be broken narrative?) in the sense that something is going on in the image but we not entirely certain as to what that something might be.
Further insight into the series came from reading a review of it on line from the Bhakati Collective. It would seem my initial thoughts about the work exploring the appropriation of ‘eastern’ traditional cultures by western industrialised ones is perhaps only partially correct. In fact the series far more layered with meaning than I had initially thought. Buhler Rose himself and the women within the photographs, while of European origin actually live in Indian based culture and community in Florida. As such the work’s commentary about the exotic placed within familiar western contexts is complex and nuanced. Moreover, the works of art that inform and influence Buhler Rose’s photography enhance this theme.
We were asked to consider his work along side 19th century photographer Henry Peace Robinson and even earlier artists like Raphael.
Henry Peach Robinson: “A Moving Tale”
Compositionally there are similarities. The work of Peach Robinson in depicting rural farm workers looks staged but then he would have had the technical limitations of shutter speeds of over 1 second. Photographing people going about there everyday lives would have been almost impossible without a staged approach. However, for Buhler Rose his inspiration comes from a 19th century artist called Raja Ravi Varma. He was Indian and painted portraits in an attempt to depict the intelligence and cultural sophistication of his people to westerners who regarded as lesser beings. As the review of “Constructing the Exotic’ goes on to suggest; we live in a far less homogeneous world compared to that of the 19th century and this is reflected in the work of Buhler Rose.