My friend Vishwas and I went to see an exhibition of Hollywood photographs at
I enjoyed the photographs on several levels. The first reaction, of course, was to the technical excellence of the photographs themselves. In the era of black-and-white photography, when photography was a cumbersome and tedious process, these photographers have yet produced such gems! Portraiture, to me, is one area where black-and-white photography still holds its own against colour.
Portraying people noted for their looks, as well as their talent, can hold its own challenges. Which aspect would you highlight as a photographer? Some photographs, such as that of Ingrid Bergman, focus on the beautiful lines of her face and neck; it’s the physical beauty that is captured. Others, such as the photograph of Alfred Hitchcock, with a bird settling on his trade-mark cigar, touch with a sense of sardonic humour on the film, or the talent, of the subject. There was one very memorable photograph of
his kurta soaked in the perspiration of a humid Kolkata afternoon, directing his cameraman, the equally famous
I was also impressed by the range and scope of the collection itself, and the hard work that must have gone into gathering the various negatives. Perhaps this is what justifies the astronomical prices (ranging from Rs. One to Two Lakhs, and above!) that are being charged. Well, thankfully for impecunious visitors like me, we can see the photographs for free, at least for a while!
Seeing the photographs also set in train many thoughts about the nature of physical beauty. The camera captures what will be lost later; that smooth skin will wrinkle, that thick mane of hair will wither away….Anno Domini will take its toll, and the beauty of the photograph will be the hagged crone of today’s reality. Why, I wonder, are the most fleeting things the most satisfactory? In some things we respect the majesty that longevity brings, but not when it comes to human beauty. We worship youth…we don’t accord enough respect to Age, it seems.
This was exemplified by one photograph of a white-haired Charlie Chaplin, directing a movie….I would never have recognized him, which means that only the photographs of his younger days are familiar ones.
Another aspect of the photographs was the bulk of the photographic equipment in them. In that photo of Charlie Chaplin, the giant dimensions of the movie camera bring out, starkly, how much miniaturization has occured in a short period of time. The ordinary photographer, taking a quick video of a street scene on his mobile camera, cannot imagine the kind of clunky equipment it took to make a silent movie of the 20’s! The march of technology for the common man is truly amazing.
Nice to visit an exhibition which elicits so many reactions! Thank you, Tasveer!