Accepted Paper:

Art Photography and Anthropology: An Indian Story  


Dolores (Lola) MacDougall Lescano (Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona)

Paper short abstract:

Birth Series, a photo essay shot in 2005 by the Indian photographer Gauri Gill with a fine art approach is an example of blurring of photographic genres that characterizes the photographer’s oeuvre. This paper proposes an anthropological reading of the series.

Paper long abstract:

Birth Series is a photo essay shot in 2005 by the Indian photographer Gauri Gill in which an elderly midwife assists in the delivery of her own grandchild on a sandy floor of a desert hut in Rajasthan. Shot with a predominantly fine art approach, it offers alternative readings when reinterpreted from an anthropologic perspective.

Gill's oeuvre is characterized by a deliberate blurring of genres, and often the realistic, documentary and romantic modes (Edwards, 1992) are simultaneously present. Margaret Mead thought it inappropriate to demand that behaviour filmed by anthropologists have the earmarks of a work of art. Conversely, can the endeavour of the artist not be claimed by visual anthropology? Gill's series was exhibited in 2010 in a dimly lit room of a New Delhi art gallery, which privileged the "romantic" interpretative mode. I propose to examine the framing of this series from an anthropological perspective, especially since it concerns birth, a quintessential rite of passage.

The series also raises important ethical questions: were the terms of the civil contract of photography (Azoulay, 2008) entirely familiar to the sitters? Was their consent sufficiently informed? Is the fact that the photographer is herself not a complete social outsider to the reality she has chosen to depict sufficient to dismiss any characterization of her gaze as being voyeuristic?

In addition to the above, I further propose to develop the following hypothesis: that gender has played a fundamental role in enabling the photographer to record a private moment.

Panel P18
Revisiting the gaze and reinterpreting images across space and time: Photography, subjects, and viewers