In this exercise we are asked to consider Michael Bühler-Rose’s “The Conversation”. At first sight my reaction is that this is not a photograph I have any great liking for, but I cannot pin down why that might be and if there’s anything this course has taught me it’s to think as much about why I don’t like something as why I do. So here goes…
There are clearly two groups of people. The nearer is engaged in listening to one of their number, whilst the other appears to be separate and disinterested, possibly even dismissive.
There is a suggestion that the individual talking is relating some story or opinion which the separate group does not agree with or like for some reason. The body language of the talker implies there is some strength of feeling in what she is saying. Possibly it is gossip or accusation?
The clothing worn by the participants in this scene is traditional Indian, but the similarities and colour combinations suggest it is possibly more Bollywood than rural Madhya Pradesh.
The surrounding scene doesn’t give many clues, but it is odd. The lighting looks artificial – it is cold and casts strange shadows. The structure looks like a mobile home and there’s something about the construction, geraniums on the window sill, even the trees, which just look wrong when thought about in an Indian context.
It’s perhaps that wrongness, that impression of staging, which gives me the initial feeling of not liking the image. I don’t generally like staged scenes and this has many clues of being staged that are almost recognised before they’ve been thought about.
It’s an interesting idea that there is an almost instant ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ about an image which can instantly draw someone in or turn someone away before they’ve even really looked properly. I think this is relatable to Roland Barthes’ concepts of Studium and Punctum, and something I will need to think about further.