Send Some Candids: The Gaze of the Voyeur

 
Photographer Unknown, from Fabien Charuau’s Send Some Candids

Photographer Unknown, from Fabien Charuau’s Send Some Candids

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This story was originally published in November 2012.

Image quality is not always a prerequisite for the voyeuristic eye. Everywhere you look, you find phone cameras held at eye level as though they were some inscrutable salute. One would be hard-pressed to identify the object of a particular camera’s affection. Women are particularly alert to the encroaching lens. My female friends in India have regularly isolated occasions where they have caught a cell phone being used to covertly take pictures of them.

This is what led to Send Some Candids, a body of work that uses found photography from the Indian internet to explore the ideas of gender structures, voyeurism and the act of photographing itself. I wanted to document the sexuality of Indian men; how they look at, and interact with women. Taking these photos myself would have muddied the waters, and my intrigue led me to online forums. The densely productive and creatively perverse Indian porn sites are bristling with camera phone images. In a curious turn though, there is no nudity in these photos; which is, in itself, an indicator of the extreme frustration of the voyeurs.

Akin to a community of photographers, the voyeurs collect their images, upload them online and invite reactions. They are faced with the perennial problems of photography—the representation of body, ethics and identity (how to shoot a body/ how to express their sexuality through a camera/ whether to keep or blur identity markers/ whether to leave kids in, and so on) and also technical medium-specific dilemmas (not enough light/ blurred images/ subject too far from the lens and so on).

Interestingly, the empirical solutions to these problems bear a startling resemblance to those employed by modern photography. The gradual process of trial and error reveals works that can be linked, and are even analogous to, contemporary art productions. But I was completely unprepared for some of the more creative, beautiful and peculiarly ‘moving’ photographs made by schoolboys, waiters, travelling salesmen and others.

These forums or ‘empirical labs of photography’ are a very bright creative vernacular graphic industry just as much as they are an invasion of a photographic sexual nature wrought upon Indian women. The project spins on two axes; sexual harassment in the public space and how difficult it is to be a woman in India; as also a very strong reflection on the medium of photography itself.

All I have done is to blow the images up, make them printable. All the add-ons, whether defacing or various markings, are by the voyeurs. When the image is defaced, it becomes a kind of anti-portrait. The act reminds me of acid attacks and the resultant burnt acid attacks and the resultant burnt faces of the victims. Here too, the ‘burning’ of the face is just as much an act of revenge, with the same intention. It seems to say, “I couldn’t get you physically, so out of spite, I’m going to make you ugly.”

This then is a sociological documentation of the transgression against Indian women in public and not-so-public spaces. Through these sites, we get a first-hand account of Indian male sexuality. The images represent the often-skewed gender power structures, where men are predators, and women must forever be on guard. This violation of women and my resultant contempt of the aggressors is the prime motive of my graphic research.

The project has been gathering momentum within the art circle. What is most touching is the reaction of the public and the debate that it has initiated. Several newspapers have written articles about it and I  have been invited to talks to share my point of view.

Sharing, for me, is the most important part of my work as a photographer. Sharing ideas is what we need in our small community of Indian photographers and I would be delighted if this project and its original use of media could trigger new works and a  deeper reflection on the visual medium within India.

About Fabien Charuau
As a French man living in India, Fabien’s identity is defined by the confluence of two cultures; the one he was born in and the one he lives in. His images conjure a pulsating vitality; as if colours, bodies and events are about to bang into each other. This vital chaos comes from the deep impression that life in India continues to leave on him.

Tags: Fabien Charuau, history, Opinions, Perspectives, Send Sone Candids, Visual Musings, Voyeurism