The following picture analysis is of Michael Buhler-Rose image The Conversation from his project Constructing the Exotic.
The image can be found here (https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/337318).
Write a visual description of the photograph above (see links) using short phrases and descriptive words. The four key elements you should descibe are:
Facial expression, posture and gesture, clothing, location
A group of women sit and stand outside a building in a wooded area. A group of four women are on the left of the image. Three of the group are sitting, one if standing with arms folded across her chest. One of the women sitting is talking to the others, she is gesturing with her left arm. The faces of the others in the group show rapt attention.
On the right of the image are another three women. One is sitting on a set of steps leading into the building. She is leaning back against the steps, left arm resting on the step, right arm across her body, with the hand resting on her left hand. Her eyes are looking towards the woman on her left who is standing with legs slightly apart, hands on hips. The final women in this group is stood at the top of the steps, legs together, head slightly tilted as if listening, arms out to the sides, hands resting on the bannisters either side of the steps.
Each woman’s hair is pulled tightly back into a bun. Their hair is adorned with jewellery and flowers.
The women are dressed in sarees, hinting that they are from India. The ethnicity of the woman on the steps seems to back this up. However, the other women, appear to be of a more Causasion extraction.
What do you associate the women’s dress with? Are you making any other associations?
I would associate the women’s dress with the style of clothes worn by someone from India, or who has an Indian heritage, but does not live in India.
The building and the plants surrounding it I associate with a more Western country such as the U.S.A.
You may be confused by the photograph because it throws up visual signs that appear to be ‘in the wrong place’. Can you pare down this photography to a series of signs? For example, where do the women look like they originate from? What does their costume, jewellery and make-up say? What about the building in the background? Does it looks like it comes from the same place?
On the basis of the costumes, jewellery and make-up, the women appear to be from India. However, the Caucasion appearance of the majority of the women suggests that they come from a different country.
The building in the background looks like it belongs in a Western country such as the U.S.A or United Kingdom. The grass and plants throughout the image are those I would associate with those countries and not India.
The plant pots on one of the windowsill, the planters on the ground and the bird feeder behind the group of women on the left of the image are also somewhere I would expect to see in the UK or U.S.A.
The building also has a temporary feel to it. It looks like a porta-cabin. Equally it could be something of a more permanent nature but designed for someone that doesn’t have the resources to buy something more substantial. The greenery surrounding the building gives the impression of somewhere that is of a more permanent nature.
Does this photograph seem posed to you? Perhaps it is reminiscent of images by nineteenth-century photographers like Henry Peach Robinson or of painters like Raphael.
The photograph does seem posed. The placement of the group of women, the poses of the women to the right of the image. It is reminiscent of Henry Peach Robinson and composite photograph ‘Fading Away’ as well as many more including ‘Gossip on the Beach’.
The bright colours worn by the women make them stand out from their environment. This is remininscent of Raphael because of the colours he uses in some of his paintings when depicting women.
The photograph is from a series called Contructing the Exotic. How does this title resonate with the photograph?
The title of the series definitely resonates with the photograph. The women within the image are wearing outfits that aren’t normally associated with the United Kingdom, not everyday outfits at least. Before the early twentieth century, outfits like these would certainly have seemed exotic. Even now outfits like these could seem exotic when worn under the right cricumstances, for instance by belly dancers.
The staged feel to the photograph also resonates with the title of the series showing that these the image is not a natural one and has been put together in some way.
Do the women look contemporary? What do you make of their poses?
The women’s poses are relaxed. Their body language is for the most part open, although the body language of the woman standing at the left of the image is closed because of the folded arm.
The group to the left appear to be listening intently to what the one is saying.
The women do have a contemporary look which I feel is given by the make-up they are wearing. The setting also lends to this contemporary air. A setting that was more in keeping with the outfits would have given a much older feel as if you were looking at a group of women from nineteenth centure India.
The whole series can be seen at www.michaelbuhlerrose.com.