Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Our current time is marked by an increasing blurring between reality and fantasy, and also by a greater prevalence of verbal, physical, and sexual violence, and so this photobook is right on target. Sohrab Hura helps us explore the questions so central to what is happening now: What is fake and what is real? Have we lost our collective heads? Who is to blame? How do we hold people accountable?
Hura is a keen observer of society. In this case, the locale is the coastal area of India (which serves as a sort of metaphorical outer container for an imagined giant balloon in danger of bursting), and the images are in-your-face observations of scenarios in that tenuous realm between land and sea. The study of the images presented here requires some stamina and contemplation on the part of the viewer – there are many ambiguous depictions to puzzle over: red as the color of blood and eroticism predominates as a distinctive feature throughout the work, and a number of images reinforce the theme of heads that seem to be lost or missing.
The book has the subtitle “Twelve Parallel Short Stories.” Indeed, there are twelve versions of a story with minor variations, nicely highlighted to show what changes in each version. And the sequence of images mirrors this study of near-equivalences and leads toward calmer self-reflection. Hura has an innovative way of sequencing the pictures; he treats each double-page spread as a diptych, and recycles the same images to be paired differently in a later double page, thus establishing a kind of parallelism, resulting in alternate tableaus and contexts to guide the viewer to multiple interpretations.
The carefully edited sequence of images and the surrounding mysterious short story versions go hand in hand. Sohrab Hura demonstrates that meanings can be altered by ever-so-slight changes in visual and verbal juxtapositions. This mirrors the current social media frenzy of believing imagined or constructed contexts or rumors more than facts that can be documented in incontrovertible detail. Is the person shown really injured? Is the couple shown in an embrace actually having a good time or are we witnessing domestic violence? Why is there blood in unexpected places? What exactly are people doing to each other? The stark images, often using blown-out flash exposures and seemingly absurd narrative elements, intertwine to show a world that seems heavily manipulated, in order to challenge our ability to judge what is true and what is fake, an apt lesson in the “multiplicity of existences and meaning.”
Thus even though this project was triggered by political and cultural changes in India, it turns out that it applies universally. I highly recommend it as a fruitful basis for detailed contemplation of some of the absurdities that we have witnessed lately. Hura’s The Coast was named “Photobook of the Year” at the 2019 Paris Photo/Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards 2019.
Sohrab Hura – The Coast
Photographer: Sohrab Hura (born in Chinsurah, West Bengal, India; resides in New Delhi, India)
Self-published (Ugly Dog imprint); © 2019
Prose: Sohrab Hura
Hardback with sewn binding; 224 pages, unpaginated; 7 x 9.25 inches (18 x 23.5 cm); printed by Naveen Printers, New Delhi
Photobook Designer: Sohrab Hura