[Reader-list] Thoughts on Photographing Bombay's Cinema Halls

Zubin Pastakia zubinpastakia at gmail.com
Fri Aug 17 21:51:27 IST 2007


This is my fifth post to the Reader-List related to my fellowship
project "A Photographic Study of Bombay's Cinema Halls as a Cultural
Experience of Space."

For this month's post, I thought I would change things up a bit and
write about the nature of "documentation" in the photographic sense. I
have consciously avoided the term documentation as I find it
problematic - I'd prefer to call it a study of or a meditation on
cinema halls in Bombay.

As a photographer, I am motivated to photograph - to "record" – not
only due to aesthetics (colour, shape, pattern, light etc.) but also
because recording the subject/object would move my overall narrative
forward. The problem arises when these latter subjects/objects are
difficult to represent photographically, as they fail on all of the
above-mentioned aesthetic criteria.

I am not talking about photographing something "ugly" per se, as I do
not believe that photographs need to be "pretty"; it is more a case of
the scene lacking the necessary criteria to be able to convey meaning
in the photographic form. Is it then worth photographing?

I constantly come across this tension in my cinema hall work. It is
hard to keep the camera "democratic" at all times. I justify this by
reminding myself that photography is not an exact science but a point
of view - adding another piece to the puzzle. As the late John
Szarkowski wrote, the goal of photography/art "is not to make
something factually impeccable, but seamlessly persuasive."


Although this is not a project that is purely serial in nature - where
each individual photograph loses its unique aura and content, ala Ed
Ruscha in his "Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass" - the very fact
that I am photographing only cinema halls means that it is a serial
project if we look at each hall as a set.

At first, I often felt displeased that I was slipping into a formula
in photographing the halls. I was always looking for certain things.
This used to bother me – I was becoming formulaic.

However, of late I have found that it is not necessarily a bad thing
to look for the same things in different halls. Eventually, when I
take stock of all the photographs in my project, I feel that I will be
able to see how similar and yet different these spaces are.

Photographs tell us what things look like.

The project site is at:




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