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  • Writer's pictureSumedha Bhattacharyya

Duet with camera : Camera as a witness

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Dancer : Hediyeh Azma ( Iran) ; Photography by Sumedha Bhattacharyya(India)

Location : Clermont Ferrand, France

Between the desire

And the spasm

Between the potency

And the existence

Between the essence

And the descent

Falls the Shadow

T.S Eliot, Hollow Men

The idea of in-betweenness, of moments in and out of time, of shadows, of transition, is a common theme in Eliot’s poetry. Such is a commonly witnessed worldwide phenomenon, where everyone and everything is constantly under the ‘shadow’ of socio-political and cultural transition. Transition is inevitable. Imkaan means possibility in Persian and Urdu, an Indo-Iranian collaborative and inter-disciplinary Photo-Dance performance and visual storytelling project.

I met Hediyeh , from Iran , in the Erasmus Masters program (Choreomundus) while after a conversation with her, I heard that it is 'illegal' to dance in Iran. That was something unfathomable for me, where I question dance and dance-ing from a country like India that celebrates dancing in some form or the other.

A curiosity to listen to her journey , but also take a back seat as a dancer, I wanted to be a witness.

The camera for me then, became a tool to translate this desire to document and understand how the body is limited and veiled.
What it is to dance ,where dance is illegal?

Imkaan aims to understand the body in transition through transformative self-performance and identity creation, using the camera as a photographic tool. Also, through our own cross-cultural connections, Hediye Azma, an Iranian Underground dancer and I, as the photographer, attempt to validate our qualifications as dancers for capturing through the camera, the ambiguity, of the moving body, that occurs at a threshold that has yet to be crossed. Hediyeh's choreographed body was juxtaposed over street graffiti, caged inside wired enclosures or enmeshed between tangled foliage the particular attention given to the affective qualities of these spaces, acknowledging what social theorist Henri Lefebvre calls the ‘generative relation’ between them. Thus, body and space, cleverly, co-produces one another through practices, gestures, and events.

Figure 2: Hediye Azma in Imkaan, Shot by Sumedha Bhattacharyya in Oslo, Norway

The moment when one clicks the shutter of a camera to capture a fleeting experience, instantly turning it into a tangible representation, is a flash of performed self-encounter.

It is that liminal twinkling when the reality is turned into an unreal image, and in that process, facilitates self-reflection. As art critic Geoffery Batchen (1994) succinctly states, Photographers intervene in every photograph they make, whether by orchestrating or directly interfering in the scene being imaged; by selecting, cropping, excluding, and in other ways, making pictorial choices as they take the photograph.’ A photographed moment, thus, has the unique ability to draw one’s attention from the obvious to, otherwise, obscure instances of experiential states of self-hood, through the ‘mediated’ eyes of the photographer. The excerpts from my collaborator Sourabh Harihar’s emotive poems further this imagery of a body under siege with quotes such as, “I pin my laments on the boughs laden with silence”.

How does the body undergo a feeling of detachment: when it is neither here nor there? What is to desire and believe in a mental image of freedom?

Figure 3: Hediye Azma in Imkaan, Photograph by Sumedha Bhattacharyya in Clermont-Ferrand, France

Imkaan can also be seen as a re-conceptualization of liminality as visualized by cultural anthropologist Victor Turner. Imkaan was a photographic journey that started between two dancers sharing their stories of displacement from their homeland. This was our first international photo project where I was a dancer, but behind the camera, trying to understand how a rectangular frame can capture the ephemeral form of dance, as a frozen moment of ephemerality. However, the still imagery where dance is shot in a particular stance was consciously chosen by Hediyeh and me.

The ‘eye’ of the camera emerged as a photographic tool, where I was as a witness to the story of an Iranian Underground dancer Hediyeh Azma.

By representing the ‘self’ as an ideological process, this innovative pictorial volume furthers the important thesis that personal and social histories, spanning multiple cultural boundaries, are instrumental in the creation of the notion of self-hood.

Figure 4 :Hediye Azma in Imkaan, Photography by Sumedha Bhattacharyya in Clermont-Ferrand, France and Oslo, Norway

Our Evolving laboratory :

View full photo project here :

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