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The View From The Couch

Cultural forces are only as powerful as the shadow they cast. One of the goals of TV Viewers,an exhibition of photographs by French photographer Olivier Culmann,is to remind us of that very fact.

The photography exhibition,TV Viewers ,is a exploration of urban ennui

Cultural forces are only as powerful as the shadow they cast. One of the goals of TV Viewers,an exhibition of photographs by French photographer Olivier Culmann,is to remind us of that very fact. If the most rambunctious invention of the 20th century,the television,has illuminated millions of lives,it has also lulled us into an unsettling passivity.

In Paris,a young woman lies on a couch with a cat by her side,watching television. The woman and her cat make for a cozy picture,but the world that they are being transported to is anything but cozy. The caption of the photograph says that she is watching American filmmaker,Terrence Malick’s relentless war drama,The Thin Red Line. It’s a film that shocks you,disturbs you,angers you even,but you don’t detect any of these extreme emotions in the woman’s face. It’s as if she has surrendered to the images on the screen without any kind of confrontation.

Cats seem to be a leitmotif in Culmann’s works. When he documents a typical Malayali couple from Ernakulam in a photograph,he includes another cat in the frame. A disconcerting feline presence that takes more away from the picture than it adds to it. The couple however,seems to be engrossed with the news they are watching (the caption says they are watching Asianet News),their faces contorted into expressions of immense concentration.

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These two pictures present contradictory reactions to visual stimuli. They also show us how television has the power to both numb us and provoke us. Culmann takes enough pains to introduce socio-political subtexts to all the photographs on display. Families in Morocco immerse themselves in a Mexican soaps as a Malayali boy from a village in Kerala the evidently flummoxed by the Hindi film that he is watching — the Vivek Oberoi starrer,Kisna.

Television,as these images suggest,has brought worlds together. It has introduced us to different cultures,sensitized us to other people’s emotions. But then Culmann also insists on projecting television as a cultural force that enslaves us,rendering us incapable of individual thought. A flickering blue invader that seduces into submission.

All said and done,one can’t help wondering about the way Culmann went about capturing these images. Weren’t the subjects willing participator in Culmann’s meaning-making process? Some images,like the one of the young woman in Paris,seem too perfect,too staged— the cat’s perfectly perched on sofa,the apartment is an interior designer’s dream-come-true.

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Yet,these little things don’t take away anything from this wonderful photography project brought to us by Alliance Française,India. It’s an effort that tells us more about ourselves than most other works of self-exploration do.

First published on: 04-01-2010 at 04:27:30 am
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