2011. február 21., hétfő

Photography in India and Joris Ivens

We watched several movies during this lecture. The first one was Photo Wallahs from 1991 shot by David MacDougall and his wife Judith. This one hour colour film discovers photography in a special part of India, Mussoorie, where photography thrived since the 19th century, and where princes and lords came to have their pictures taken. However, the shine of the place have faded and now dozens of photographers struggle to stay alive by taking pictures of Indian tourists.
Even though there's this aspect of the film, the movie's main focus is not the struggle of the photographers but the meaning and the use of photography in India in the end of the 1980s. The most interesting thing for me in the film was the fact that how old-fashioned photography lives side by side with modern colour photography. Even though the time has passed and the modern techniques were completely available for anyone many photographers stick to their old machines, and when I say old I mean stone age really, to take portraits of people or family pictures in a very static and old-fashioned way. On the other hand the new techniques creep in and photographers, struggling to keep afloat, take pictures of tourists in costumes with more modern colour cameras.

The whole film was revolving around these clashes between old and new techniques and the opinions of people from very varied social backgrounds; from the poor to the rich British colonial lady who had been left behind by the collapsing great British Empire.
The attitude of the photographers was very interesing to photography. It felt like they didn't really care for reality when it was about making pictures of people. They either took very old school staged, rigid and artificial pictures of people, or they dressed them up in costumes and made them make funny movements and faces. One of them argued that these pictures with costumes bring out the inner feelings and attributes so they sort of capture reality. However, I found this approach a bit surprising. Albeit, the common streak that all these photograohers had was the passion the capture beauty and hand it to the people whom they photographed. It felt that they cared much more about capturing something pretty than capturing something real. Therefore most of the pctures seemed a bit unnatural and enhanced, especially the ones that were painted over.
The other thing that the photographers seemed to agree about was that photography used to be an art form but not anymore. Most of them had this nostalgia for the old times when there were only black and white pictures taken by old beautiful cameras. Nowadays however photography is not special anymore, anyone can do it and develop it almost in minutes. Hence, most of the older photographers were kind of mooning over the death of real photography that was an art form. This approach is very interesting because it assumes that modern photography is meaningless almost, however I cannot subscribe to this point of view. It is definitely true that pictures taken by tourists on their fully automatic digital cameras are far from being art, but just because a photo is colour and was developed rapidly doesn't make it less art than an old-fashioned B + W picture.

The second video that we watched was a short film by Joris Ivens, The Bridge, from 1928.
This was a very interesting film for me because I didn't anticipate enjoying a movie that does nothing else but shows a bridge for 13 minutes. Obviously this is an exaggeration, the film was abou much more than a bridge and as it turned out I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was solely focusing on the workings of the bridge and the train that travelled through it furthermore the ship that went underneath it. So, besides the workings of the machines the other main focus of the film was movement, in that manner it was really similar to Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera. To be honest I cannot say much about this film because it was quite hard to grasp and digest. I understood the structure of the movie as it zoomed in on the bridge and then is showed how it worked, but I can't really come up with a 'hidden' meaning behind this, even though the effort of Ivens to capture the soul of the machine could be clearly felt during the whole thing.

The last piece was a fairly annoying Amercian propaganda film by Ivens, called the Power of the Land. It was very socialistic and propagandistic. The life of the farmer family without electricity and the hardships could have come through much better with a different approach, especially without the very very annoying narrator.
It worked with social cliches, the farmer works to serve and feed the nation not to feed his own family, the good state comes to give back etc. It was very 'in your face' and boldly aggressive.

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