The image and the imagined

Updated on: Mar 27, 2020

How do viewers respond to photographs when the subjects are faceless?

Is it possible to truly know the people we photograph? Or does shooting people invariably mean just capturing their faces and expressions?

When we see people on the streets, we often see them fleetingly, instinctively, momentarily. In this photoessay, I choose moments that obscure my subjects’ faces or record their absence, so that the viewer is not manipulated by the facial expressions.

At a time when debates rage over identity, privacy and the use of facial recognition software by those in power, these photographs aim at subverting our understanding of imaging and imagining, appearance and reality. The attempt is to represent the people we see every day while crossing a street or sitting in a café, but not in the way a CCTV would capture them with the intention of surveillance.

These are casual everyday sights and encounters — a defaced political poster, a TikTok video in the making, or a child playing in a churchyard. The seemingly inconsequential moments burst into life in frames frozen in time. They brim with promise, a silent story, or even social commentary.

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces us to recede behind gloves and masks, everyday activities such as going to the market or discussing daily news with a friend have taken on an entirely new meaning. To an extent, it has ensured that we don’t mistake the commonplace for the obvious. At the end of all this, when we are allowed to be human again, how will we look at and see each other?

Aakash Chakraborty is based in Delhi. He works with publishing group Routledge, Taylor & Francis

Published on Aug 15, 2022


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