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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Reimagining the Muse

At his first photography solo, novelist Dasgupta says why it has collapsed the most initimate human interaction.

Written by AMRUTA LAKHE | Mumbai |
Updated: March 31, 2015 12:01:27 am
Rana Dasgupta (Source: Express photo by Vasant Prabhu) Rana Dasgupta (Source: Express photo by Vasant Prabhu)

The photographs are hazy, unfocussed but deliberate. The collection, that is part of the series Kiss, seems to be snatched from a dream sequence. One can barely recognise the elongated and disfigured human silhouettes leaning in and away from each other. “Look at the second photo, the figures look like horses. And in the one next to it, like monsters. Who would think these are humans caught in the most intimate act of sex?” says Rana Dasgupta, about his photographs.

The photos are up at Chatterjee & Lal gallery in Colaba and are a result of an experiment that the British-Indian novelist was conducting. “I pointed my camera at a pornographic movie playing on a screen and exposed the shutter for 11 seconds. The results were time capsule images. But in those 11 seconds, the humans who are making love seem animalised. Through these photos, I’m addressing the shift in the reality of sex as brought about by pornography,” he says.

Back from Brown University after teaching a course on “Liberalisation”, the 43-year-old writer was in the city for his solo photography debut titled “Reality”, as part of the Focus Photography Festival. Dasgupta’s fascination with changing attitudes towards sex began with an essay he wrote on the same topic over a decade ago. A study he read said that 80 per cent American men and 30 per cent women watch pornography regularly. It led him to question the increasing need for the modern-day human to turn to pornography.

“Sex education is a big part of it. Especially in India, I learnt that almost 80 per cent of teenage boys and girls get their primary information, not from a classroom, but from a website. I’ve heard stories about young girls about to get married watch porn to prepare themselves for their wedding night. That is a lot of responsibility on the porn industry,” he says.

With so many eyes locked to the screen, Dasgupta reflects that an act so intimate and sacred to humankind, has changed in a modern household. “A married man, with a healthy sex life, will spend hours on pornographic websites. When he’s with his wife, does he think of the fantasy that porn creates? And more importantly, does sex then live up to that fantasy?” asks the writer of Tokyo Cancelled and Solo, books that are broad explorations of the effects of globalisation in the 21st century. “With these advancements in technology and hundreds of people tuned in to the same trained act, it seems like we’re all having sex alone, but together,” he says.

Dasgupta took to photography to meditate on these questions. He explains that the accurate depiction of sex can be found in the arts. “European art in the 18th century showed that sex was a consensual, intimate and a sacred act between a man and a woman. Then, with the turn of the century, feminist discussions about the needs and wants of the woman emerged. Sexual positions depicted in art changed, and women’s need to seek pleasure, not just provide pleasure came to light.

Also, the nude has been revered by artists for centuries. Today, through pornography, we have completely re-imagined this muse,” says Dasgupta, “Through blurring and distorting the act of porn in my photographs, I want to take a hard look at the fundamental changes porn has brought about in sex in today’s society,” he says.

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