We live in times when everything is designed and manufactured to sell. Realities or truths are not immune to this ‘production’ process. Photographs are witness and record of an experience, but the beauty of the photograph is that it has the same intensity as the event itself, triggering a response similar to what the actual event generated. It’s a mechanical process of contemporising the past with its working/reworking of the facts to the image, thus being a medium of dialectical interaction of reality and representation.
There have been famous photographs that have left an indelible mark on our consciousness, from the Vietnamese Napalm Girl to Kevin Carter’s award winning photo of a Sudanese child chasing a vulture away from his food. The peculiar impression of photographic semantics is its precise and timely portrayal in the triad (agency) of ‘event, subject and object’. This intersectionality makes every picture a bundle of information, and interpretation.
How do photographs become so provocative and at the same time a ‘fact non de grata’ for institutions, establishments and ‘authority’? Nation states have the tendency of moulding historical memory with images of their own making, as well as creating new images of the present and the future. Photographs go beyond the horizons and dimensions of ‘statist time’ and instead freeze the distressed sight and the smugness of the oppressor. The nation state’s ‘regimentation of time’ can be seen in its de-humanised form when even mourning is dictated by the ‘state’ in Kashmir.
Photographs try to break autocratic definitions of ‘hegemonic time’ and instead present, starkly, the real and existing ‘sufferings’ of their ‘photographed subjects’. They lay bare the ‘architecture of oppression’, as Edward Snowden puts it. Photojournalist Masrat Zehra was recently booked under the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) with the State accusing her photographs of being anti-national and as inciting Kashmiri youth to violence. This witch-hunting has been internalised and normalised by using the Agambanen ‘state of exception’ where individuals are considered as ‘bare citizens’ without letting them have their rights and freedom of expression.
In this post-media age of informational convergence, photographs can be utilised and internalised as an effective means of seeing the fact as it is. Photographers are re-incarnated after every look at the photograph. Photographs are often the conduits through which we can deliberate upon the cause-effect dialectics of our social realities. The semiotics of a photograph (Barthes) has a categorical importance to the event itself as the meaning and intentions are craftily frozen to their original.
Nothing spills out of the photograph, for it has the sense of narrating the facts as they are. With the rise of politics that has as its basis the ‘image’, we need to introspect over ‘photographs’ that differentiate between the ‘crafted image’ and ‘real image’. Fake and alternative facts have been thriving across the world, their purpose being to distract and to shape public imagination in a certain form. As events around us happen fast and every click of the camera leads to new pathways of information flow, photographs slow down the pace of events and deconstruct ‘intentions’.
Photographs archive wrongs and rights. They preserve the past and juxtapose it to the present. They reinforce consciousness and create a tradition of remembering the past and questioning the present. Photographers are the authors of that cornered ‘reality’ that sneaks through the discourse of both national as well as regional political narratives.