From the last week’s discussions, there are quite some points that are interesting to reflect upon. I do not have any clear structure as in how to put them together, so this post might seem as a random discussion of these points.
From photography to film-making, there has been transition in the nature of the images. But I would like to point out the transitory nature of imaging itself, no matter in what form it is. Whether still images or a motion picture, it captures a few moments of a particular form of life or experience that would continue to go on before and after the instance of imaging. So, the moments captured are, in fact, the points in time that signify transition. This thought was triggered in my mind by a particular scene in the film “Photo wallahs”, where the pictures taken by the photographers slide by the screen while a Sardar (Sikh) man sings in the background a famous Indian song from 1956: “Guzra huaa zamaana ataa nahin dubara”
The song was not translated in the sub-titles, and I feel that translating it would have added something valuable to that scene. The line quoted above means, “The time that has passed, never comes back” followed by these lyrics: “tanhaiyon Mein Aqsar Royenge Yaad Kar Ke
vo Waqt Jo Ki Hamne Ik Saath Hai Guzaara”
Roughly translated: “Memories of the time that we spent together, shall make us weep in times of loneliness”.
I am not sure about the intention of the film-maker or of the photographers presenting in that particular scence, whether the song was matched to the photographs somehow or was it just a random co-incidence, but it makes perfect sense to look at the photographs from another perspective: construction of memories.
In the context of Tourism, or of couples coming to the photographers to get their perfect portraits, preserving the memories seems to be one of the most important motives underlying the practice Off course, we can analyse it from the point of view of framing or construction of identities, representational dilemmas, transcending the characters, etc. But whatever forms it may take, the photography remains an art of memorizing and of creating memories in this context.
What kind of memories do we want to create? What is rendered valuable to be preserved in images? These are the questions, that further reflect upon the issues of representation we already discussed in class. For example, when the tourists used to wear different costumes and take up different roles to play in front of the camera, it might as well be a “different experience” they wanted to capture and keep safe as a visual memory. At one point in the movie, we saw an old lady showing an album containing pictures of her youth and of relatives and family members, precisely of valuable persons and moments from her life. That album was the book of visual memories of her life, captured in time, the moments that never stopped. I was wondering, what if the ethnography of photographs and film be extended to the memories constructed through these means and the emotional value of these visual representations? We talk all the time about realistic, true imagery, but in fact some images are only true according to the eye of the particular observers. We often try to rule out emotionality in Anthropology, but the very study of emotionality can also give us a closer view of the “true values” people hold close to their hearts, as we saw in this film.
Moreover, the transition to film, where the video-camera was mainly used for the purpose of recording wedding ceremonies, is also a very clear example of its use as a means for producing memories. Wedding photography and film is a very interesting example of visual medium and its ritualized use in such occasions. The film marks people’s reactions to the introduction of video camera and film. It was not only then, even today, I can relate to examples of weddings and such occasions when the whole ceremony is planned and conducted in such a way to get a perfect video film. So, the camera becomes the pivotal point around which all the activity is centred or staged. It is not about the reaction to technology, as may be apparent, but about the place that technological medium acquires in the lives of people because of its use as a tool of making memories and recording moments when relations are built. I am not sure about the trend in other parts of the world, but in Pakistan, even today, people spend huge amounts of money only on specialized wedding photo shoots and on getting the wedding ceremonies filmed. In fact, there are instances when the actual wedding is re-enacted, or moments are re-created to be captured by the camera. For example, these days there is a trend of having photo-shoots and video films for the wedding shot in certain cultural sites, such as historical places, forts, mosques etc. So, what happens in most of the cases is that the wedding takes place in a normal way, in some hall or any other place, and later on, after a few days, the bride and the groom dress up all again in the same way and go to the historical and cultural site to get their shoot. It is also important to note how people try to add cultural, historical elements to their memories, which also reflects upon their ways of imaging themselves and self-representation in a particular context. I am attaching a few such pictures, taken at historical places in Lahore, Pakistan, so that you can have better idea of what I am talking about. The pictures are the property of the photographer, I am using them only as an example to show how visual media can be used to create memories which reflect upon the self-images of the people.
Also, there is a video link to highlights from a wedding ceremony shot at the Badshahi Mosque (A historical site from Mughal era). There are many interesting instances to note, regarding how people tend to behave in front of camera, what is natural behaviour, what is constructed, and what does a particular representation mean to the ones being filmed.
Is this not anthropological much? Well, in my view, it is, as memories and their construction reflect upon the utmost sensibilities of any society and its social relations.