Fig. 1. The Conversation (2006)
Write a visual description of the photograph above using short phrases and descriptive keywords. The four key elements you should describe are: facial expression, posture and gesture, clothing, location. What do you associate the women’s dress with? Are you making any other associations? 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 photograph to a series of signs? For example, where do the women look like they originate from? What does their costume, jewellery and make-up say? What about the building in the background? Does it look ancient or contemporary? 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 photograph is from a series called Constructing the Exotic. How does this title resonate with the photograph? Do the women look contemporary? What do you make of their poses? Have a look at the whole series at www.michaelbuhlerrose.com. How does viewing the whole series affect your reading of this particular image?
Four women sitting on the grass appearing to be engrossed in a conversation. Three other women sitting or standing around some wooden stairs leading from a prefab building. The women are in bright coloured clothing, which appears to be from south-east Asia. The clothing could be described as traditional or national dress. The women in the foreground create a leading line towards the centre of the photo, this then draws the eye up to the three women on the stairs. There are trees and shrubbery in front of the building and trees behind it. Although the background is quite messy, the bright clothing that the women are wearing keeps the focus upon them. The three women in the background do not appear to be involved with each other, the one on the step is scowling, the one standing in front of the door is gazing towards the camera, and the third is facing her with her hands on her hips. I have not spent a lot of time travelling south east Asia, but the trees do not look native. I would hazard a guess that the photograph was taken in the UK.
The four women at the front of frame appear to be quite natural in the expression and conversation, but the three at the back look staged because of their posture. Six of the women are caucasian, the other is brown and possible from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia??? This would suggest that the photo is staged and the women are not wearing clothes that are their own national dress. However, the world is a multicultural place, I know of many white English people who were born and grew up in Asia.
I am going to say that the photo is staged. With the conflict between different postures, the apparent location, the national dress and skin colour, and the fact that the photo is from a series called “Constructing the Exotic”.
I have just had a look at Buhler-rose website and he says “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’.”
Here are a couple of photos that I have looked at as comparisons with regard to the traditional dress.
Fig.2. Asmarandana Dancers (2017)
These dancers are wearing Indonesian dress. The clothing is similar to the Indian dress in The Conversation, more important for me is the posture. Their hands specifically are held in a pose that would come from traditional dance moves. The Indian women from The Conversation are not.
Fig. 3. Bharatanatyam Classical Dance (Eshita Picture)
There are many forms of traditional Indian Dance, and Bharanatyam is possibly the most traditional of all. The clothing that the woman is wearing is similar to that of The Conversation, but she has a more authentic feel, and the bracelets, the henna on her fingers and the henna tattoo on her feet leave me with that impression.
Buhler-Rose may have photographed women who were either born or raised in the Indian continent and culture, but they have a westernised feel despite their traditional dress. They may be having a break from dance lessons, and would therefore be relaxed, their hands would not be held in a mudra, but I am left with a feeling that they are not as immersed in the Indian culture as Buhler-Rose suggests.
Figure 1; Buhler-Rose, M; 2006; The Conversation; At: https://news.syr.edu/2014/03/new-geographics-features-photography-of-michael-buhler-rose-56929/ (accessed on 23/11/2017)
Figure 2; Adreas, A; 2017; Amarandana Dancers; At: https://andiandreas.hk/2017/11/07/asmarandana-dancers/ (accessed on 23/11/2017)
Figure 3; Bharatanatyam Classical Dance (Eshita Picture); At: http://www.culturalindia.net/indian-dance/classical/bharatnatyam.html (accessed on 23/11/2017)