A pair of lovers, a parrot, a bloodstained blade, a blind dog, rats fighting, people fighting, people laughing, crying, praying, holding each other, hurting one another. Each of these nighttime scenes – a few of many – is duplicated in Delhi-based photographer Sohrab Hura’s photobook and punctuated by sharp shadows or steeped in high-contrast darkness that bleeds in from the edges of the photographs. The Coast seethes with an underlying violence. Sometimes it explodes from the page (in one photo a man, pinning another down, is about to smash his victim’s head with a brick), but most often the series carries an impending sense of threat that lies just beneath the surface of the photographs, lurking behind a pattern of associated imagery that invites the reader to construct the book’s narrative.
The Coast, produced by Hura along India’s shoreline, is accompanied by a surreal one-page story. ‘The Lost Head and The Bird’, named after a short film the photographer made in 2017, tells of a pitiful woman whose head was stolen by a jealous ex-lover and whose pet bird has escaped its cage. (There are more than a few references to the Hindu deity Ganesha in the photographs, too, but that the woman in the story is still missing her head – and functions with a ‘borrowed’ ear – suggests an inability to evaluate her own situation.) The illusion of brutality – composed by the reader’s initial interpretation of the photo series and related text – is ruptured by 11 additional versions of the text that are published at the end of the book. Each iteration is edited with subtle changes that alter the reader’s perception of the protagonist, throwing doubt onto how the photo series is understood.
Perhaps the photo series (and story) is a parable for our contemporary sociopolitical climate, in which, say, myths are used as evidence for the superiority of one sect over another: in blurring fact and fiction, Hura throws light onto the way meanings can be manipulated by carefully sequenced pieces of information. The lesson? Remember that the way in which facts are interpreted is contingent on how they are framed.
From the Winter 2019 issue of ArtReview Asia