Where's the telly remote?


Where's the telly remote?

Demanding your rapt attention could be your favourite soap, a nail biting one-day cricket match or even a breaking news! But what you don’t realise is that you are so into watching television, you tend to turn oblivious to what is happening around you. What it reflects is that the idiot box is in complete control of  your body, also reflecting a vegetative state of mind. Depicting a similar picture are homes across the world and capturing this trend is French photographer Olivier Culmann. Be it  Kochi in Kerala or Marrakech in Morocco, behavioural trait among TV viewers — engrossed by TV images are the similar world over.

Culmann showcased a series of 25 photographs at Delhi’s Alliance Francaise in an aptly-titled exhibition called ‘TV Viewers’. Presented jointly by the Embassy of France and the Alliance Française, the exhibition is a part of the ongoing Bonjour India festival to capture the “unsettling passivity” of TV viewers worldwide. And as it travels to Bangalore, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Chennai, visitors will understand what that term means through the photographs clicked in Morocco, India, the US, Mexico, Nigeria, United Kingdom, China and France.

A larger number of around 70 pictures will  later form a book on the same subject, he says. These pictures capture people watching TV and the TV set itself. And if you feel it ends there, think again. It is a visual study of a modern society under the complete control of a medium that visually carries information provides entertainment to us.

“The exhibition evolved from my study of people watching television. We live in a global village where television and media are the main sources of disseminating information. This makes them a major influence on the way people think and act and their perception of the world in its entirety, which is far from reality. It is this unsettling aspect that I have sought to capture,” says Culmann.

Culmann developed the idea to create such a series from his self-confessed interest in “non-spectacular moments” of life, as opposed to news photographers sniffing for something “spectacular”.  He says, “These seemingly unimportant moments too are very important in life, such as time spent in front of the TV. It is a lot of time, which nobody notices. I was interested to put the spotlight on this issue,” explains Culmaan, whose photographs of Indian TV viewers were taken in Kochi. He spent some time there and used the award money he received for pictures of a ghost town in Namibian deserts, as well as Fuji’s donation of rolls for the project.

Clicking these images and capturing moments was a time-consuming process for Culmann, as he had to spend quite a lot of time in each individual’s house – as he or she sat watching TV, so that they feel less conscious of him being there and assume their natural TV viewing postures. Interestingly, with each photograph of the viewer, Culmann has also captured the TV set. And, there is a reason for it. “Clicking the TV set itself was an effort to document its placement in the house as a resection of its importance.”  Right from the living area, bedroom to the kitchen, majority of people give humungous importance to television at home and gift it with the most important and prominent place.

In some cases, they even place the set in unused fireplaces, the centre-point of the house,” he says.  As he took photographs, he also wrote down what was being watched, in addition to the name of the individual, the place and  time to completely document the process. “Now, with the availability of foreign channels, people discover and learn about other cultures, which creates a sense of familiarity.” He adds further, “Therefore people know more about the place, its people and culture without visiting the place in question. For example, in Morocco, there used to be only one government channel earlier, but since they get channels from France, they get different points of view. That’s a good thing, but at the same time, programmes have become very commercial, resulting in deterioration in the quality of programmes.”

Culmaan now has his eyes and camera  focused on India. In fact, for the last couple of months, he has been staying in Delhi along with his family, hoping to stay on for two years during which he plans to travel across the country and work with local photographers, including those in small towns.

An idea he is working on is to be the subject himself, photographed at small studios in small towns across the country. Through this endeavour he aims to study how the backdrops used in these studios reflect the local popular culture as well as the influence of cinema on society.

“Also, I want to study how things are changing with digital photography and use of software like Photoshop for example.” And yes, before we say adieu, Culmaan points out to a universal truth that he re-discovered during the the ‘TV Viewers’ shoot.  He says,
“You can tell who calls the shots at home simply by noticing who controls the TV remote.” We cannot agree more!

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