I don’t usually post comments here that I posted on other people’s blogs, but here’s one on Henri Cartier-Bresson at Chapati Mystery.
It seems right to include a bit about travel photography and India and truthfulness. I personally found it difficult to photograph in India partly because I didn’t want to misrepresent it and because I wasn’t sure what kind of photographs I was interested in making at the time — it was a strange transitional period in my life. And the hectic pace of India and my occasional inability to stand out and photograph at the same time, certainly didn’t help.
Go visit Sepoy’s entry for the full discussion. I have only reprinted my part below.
Cartier-Bresson is most known for his “decisive moment” style of photography, which is basically to say that he waited until the world said what he wanted it to before “capturing” it objectively (he claimed) on film. That’s what all art and editorial photographers do; we lie and mislead (at our worst) and frame discourse and experience (at our best). Nothing new there.
Looking at this picture — which I vaguely remember seeing at the wee museum in Shimla’s viceregal lodge — the first thing that struck me was that it was a comment on “Britishness” first and “Indianness” second. There’s Lord Mountbatten looking proper and aloof and bored, and his wife enjoying a good joke with her distant squint and teeth hiding the fact that she enjoyed Nehru’s joke somewhat more than she ought. But Nehru does seem the buffoon here, somewhat like an early Jerry Lewis.
I wasn’t aware that HCB had been to India, so I searched and found a small trove of images on the Net (with even more in his In India monograph). All in all they aren’t much different from typical, high-end travel photographs of India and other “exotic” places.
There’s the laborers doing their thing and the Native American-esque robed women holding their hands up à la Edward Curtis and the lazy native and the alluring local woman and the monumental architecture and the freakish (all here) and the impoverished and the un-Christian religion.
All very much within the time that they were made, for better or worse.
What I did find interesting was Madhumita Nandi’s thesis:
At an immediate level it is to explore and create short narratives
(that interrelate to form a possible larger whole) that seek to appropriate the “Indian Experience ” for the ‘outsider’. These narratives will suppose interested non-Indian audience that want to know more about India than snake charmers, elephants & the Taj Mahal. The stories will attempt to invite the audience to suspend perceived impressions momentary to become part of a space that is India.
The larger intention is driving this thesis exploration is a personal need to reconstruct memories and cultural identity.