thoughts on 'looking'...

I read something today and it got me thinking. [The hyperlinks to the articles are buried in that sentence, please find them if you are curious, and I presume you are.]

It began by getting me upset; because I think it is slanderous, unreasonably vindictive toward what appears to be “innocent perpetrators” whose gazes have been decontextualized, and lastly, rather hypocritically, a victimization of the self through careful deliberation. It is difficult for me to digest a process of looking, while taking photographs as a consequence of that looking, only to return home to call foul at everybody who looked at you while you were out looking at them. The writer of the articles has no doubt met with much discomfort in public, being as it would be the only fathomable reason to dedicate an entire blog toward “exposing the endemic misogyny of Calcutta through one woman's experiences”. I will not argue semantics, and I quite easily can, but words are meant to be used to facilitate critical thought and not to deconstruct intention, however, I will take issue with being blamed for something that I did not do.

I want pseudo-feminism to end now. It is separatist, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth when it turns into militancy(which it so often does, case in point), and it has not worked. There is a kind of feminism I admire, the autonomy and strength that comes out of the embrace of one’s inherent womanliness(some men have it too!). When that power is exercised, respect is not an object anymore, but a means. Ask your mother, she knows. Where I don’t agree with it is when it strives towards an idealized “equality”, but wants to do it through bipartisanship and division purely on the basis of sexual characteristics. At some point, we need to begin thinking as a people, and not as disparate persons, perhaps then we can address our own humanity as a condition(I hate this word, but I have none better). Might I suggest humanism?

Let me address what has upset me the most: the blatant perversion of an act of looking(no pun intended). Is it wrong to look? How is context not in question? Is looking at someone taking a photograph of you a means of sexual harassment? Am I not to look at a woman on the street?

Here’s what I do: I stare, I stare a lot. I’m a photographer, I am curious by default. Sometimes my stare is absent, where my eyes will wander and fix upon something, while my mind continues to wander. I do see faster than I think, and sometimes I need to wait for my thinking to catch up with my sight. I stare at people, at things, at signs, at the sunlight; I stare a lot, through my sunglasses, through my camera, through my eyes. Sometimes I am captive to a sight, how can I address beauty if I don’t see it? And the world is beautiful, is it not? So I stare. Curiosity is natural, and I will not repress it. Do I leer? I don’t. But I’ve seen it happen, and it is unpleasant. It is unfortunate, and it is a ways from the ideal, but it is yet to be harmful. Where a leer develops into a comment, and a comment develops into misdemeanor, it has grown from being uncouth towards being malicious. Sexual harassment is a problem, and it needs to be dealt with. But vision is not a gateway drug, sight does not lead to rape, and I refuse to watch silently as “looking” gets outlawed. If you are in public, deal with getting looked at, it is bound to happen, there is only so much in the world you are able to see before you look at somebody.

I see a problem in India that begs urgent address. Division of the sexes at a young age is a terrible idea, yet we do it all the time in India. We need to end the system of having separate schools for boys and girls, I do not see ANY purpose about it. Of course, many facets of Indian parenting needs fixing, and let me not even get into the naziism of Tamil Nadu’s engineering colleges, but starting to separate the sexes while they are still children is just plain wrong. I will not call it Orwellian, not expressly, but I am certainly thinking it, and that is cause for concern.

I am going to continue to look, your overactive imagination is your problem, not mine. I find the world too beautiful to give up sight, or to censor myself into a condition where I am forced to pretend like I don’t care. I want to look at faces and marvel at the features, I want to get taken by one that I find particularly beautiful, and I also want to feel dislike towards a hairstyle I don’t enjoy. I want to feel an entire palette of emotion, and I want to do it without being criminalized for enjoying what, to me, is the most important of my primary senses. When it comes to looking, being in public is fair game; take me to task if I touch you or follow you home(remember Sophie Calle?), but looking IS NOT sexual harassment. The world is a beautiful place, and it is ours, please do enjoy it.

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(PS: This has more to do with the articles linked in the first line of this post than anything else, but I will mention it anyway. Photography is a wonderful medium, it is believed to be honest because it is so unflinchingly representational. But with every representation is an act of curation, and with photography, it is very simple to create a lie out of a system of truths. I do this in my own work, I create fictions out of fact. But what this means is that the truth can be manufactured, and with every edit, the loose ends are tied up just a bit more. The medium is wonderful, and I love it for all its unique characteristics, but it is important to view things within context. Lying in a poem, or in a book of fiction is beautiful, it is almost expected, and much beauty is in hidden away in the nuances of the lie. Lying in a newspaper is regrettable, and you will probably get fired. Lying in a gallery is wonderful, you say what you need to say to make your point, and people know what the truth is and what the lies are but they are confused about where the line lays and such critical engagement is the stuff of legend, I love it. Lying in a blogpost, on your website, is up to you, I will not take issue with your ability to do it, or your right to do so, I think you are allowed it. What I will not accept is a photograph as proof. Photographs are document, not proof. I know too much about photography to think otherwise.)