Photo-Attractions (Kobo eBook)
In Spring 1938, an Indian dancer named Ram Gopal and an American writer-photographer named Carl Van Vechten came together for a photoshoot in New York City. Ram Gopal was a pioneer of classical Indian dance and Van Vechten was reputed as a prominent white patron of the African-American movement called the Harlem Renaissance. Photo-Attractions describes the interpersonal desires and expectations of the two men that took shape when the dancer took pose in exotic costumes in front of Van Vechten’s Leica camera. The spectacular images provide a rare and compelling record of an underrepresented history of transcultural exchanges during the interwar years of early-20th century, made briefly visible through photography.
Art historian Ajay Sinha uses these hitherto unpublished photographs and archival research to raise provocative and important questions about photographic technology, colonial histories, race, sexuality and transcultural desires. Challenging the assumption that Gopal was merely objectified by Van Vechten’s Orientalist gaze, he explores the ways in which the Indian dancer co-authored the photos. In Sinha’s reading, Van Vechten’s New York studio becomes a promiscuous contact zone between world cultures, where a “photo-erotic” triangle is formed between the American photographer, Indian dancer, and German camera.
A groundbreaking study of global modernity, Photo-Attractions brings scholarship on American photography, literature, race and sexual economies into conversation with work on South Asian visual culture, dance, and gender. In these remarkable historical documents, it locates the pleasure taken in cultural difference that still resonates today.