Tag Archives | India

The Anti-Camera

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology

I recently came across M.N. Srinivas’ observation that his enthusiastic engagement with photography, during his fieldwork in Mysore in the late 1940s, earned him the nickname “chamara man”. He notes that in Kannada chamara denotes whisks made of the long hair from a yak’s tails used by servants to keep flies away from Rajas and by priests to preserve the purity of icons.

In the Madhya Pradesh village where I have worked intermittently since 1982 you will hear echoes of the metaphor that informs the South Indian description of Srinivas as “chamara man”. For instance, Jagdish Sharma, the pujari of the Krishna temple once joked that my video camera embodied “yantra, mantra, [and] tantra”, yantra being the design (“made in Japan”), mantra being the information it stored, and tantra being the magic of technology (its “mashinari”).…

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Mimesis as Infection: Charlie Hebdo seen from the Indian Archive

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology

 

The recent events in Paris have focused attention on the complex relationship between different varieties of Islam and the image. Historians will rightly point to a French tradition of anti-clerical satire that reaches back to Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage of 1771, and which provides a frame through which Charlie Hebdo’s provocations make sense. I’ve taught Diderot’s brilliant critique of Christian missionary hypocrisy in an imaginary Tahiti over several years and remain fascinated how one needs to continually remind oneself that this is fiction, a mere “supplement”. Diderot’s central Tahitian character, Orou, is a powerful vindication of Diderot’s “foisting” technique in which he “takes over Bougainville’s Voyage shamelessly rewriting and falsifying it” inserting “speeches and arguments that for the ‘enlightened’ reader, seem to cry out so urgently to be spoken”.…

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Time and Technics

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology

Salman Rushdie once suggested in an interview that in India you can traverse several centuries just by crossing the road.  Perhaps another way into the same question was provided by Malraux, (inevitably) more poetically in his Anti-Memoirs (“…in war, in museums real or imaginary, in culture, in history perhaps, I have found again and again a fundamental riddle, subject to the whims of memory which […] does not recreate a life in its original sequence. Lit by an invisible sun, nebulae appear which seem to presage an unknown constellation…Often linked to memory [certain scenes] sometimes turn out more disturbingly to be linked to the future too”).  I’ve always understood Rushdie’s observation to be an affirmation of Kracauer’s argument about diverse materially embedded temporalities which was difficult to reconcile with, for instance, Appadurai’s argument about modernity being simultaneously present, everywhere.…

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Studio Suhag! a vernacular photographic archive in India.

Christopher Pinney, Dept of Anthropology, UCL

The name is Studio Suhag. The location is a small industrial town in central India, exactly half-way between Mumbai and Delhi. The photographer is Suresh Punjabi. The images are scanned from medium-format negatives recently retrieved from Suresh’s monsoon damaged godown.  He calls it a godown (warehouse) but actually it is half a floor in a rented house in which a sudden influx of monsoon rain had dislodged tens of thousands of negs, all carefully filed and sequenced, transforming an ordered archive into a mouldering mush on the floor. Several days of careful sifting produced maybe a thousand printable negatives, the rest remain on the floor in an increasingly jumbled mess.

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The earliest images date from the late 1970s, the most recent ones from the mid-1980s. …

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