You sit glued to the television screen, but what does the television see in you?
While documenting TV viewers across eight countries, French photographer Olivier Culmann swapped the viewer and the viewed.
Jmaa Raouani watching a Mexican TV serial on the Moroccan channel 2M. Marrakech, Morocco, 2004. By Olivier Culmann/Tendance Floue
His photographs show TV watchers—from a Mexican teenager watching South Park to two children in Kochi, Kerala, watching animated films on Disney Channel—hypnotized by the images that flicker by. The pictures capture that instant when attention subsides; when the viewers surrender themselves to the phosphorescence of the cathode ray tubes. Nothing could be more banal.
Culmann, 41, shot his award-winning series Watching TV between 2004 and 2007, across Morocco, India, the US, Mexico, Nigeria, UK, China and France. In 2008, it won a World Press Photo Award in the contemporary issues category.
The photographs, which toured India for Bonjour India, in collaboration with the French embassy, earlier this year, are now on display for the last time in an exhibition curated by Rebecca Peshdikian that opens today in New Delhi. Twenty-five single-edition images, 60x60cm in size, will be on exhibit.
Watching TV took off in Morocco, where Culmann was stationed for an arts residency in 2004. It is there, along with the US and India, which he visited in the following year, that the bulk of the images were shot. “I picked countries where TV viewing assumes utmost importance,” he explains. Now back in Paris, Culmann spent the last two years in New Delhi. His images from India were shot in various parts of Kerala, where he lived for a few months.
Culmann used a medium-format camera for the images, relying on natural light, and positioning himself next to the TV sets in the homes he visited. Understandably, he had to spend several hours in each home, sometimes days, before his subjects would stop taking notice of his presence. “In Morroco, people took longer to accept me into their homes. But in India, I would walk up to homes where I heard the TV playing and spend a few hours in the living rooms,” says Culmann.
Photographs from this series have been compiled in an eponymous book which was published by Textuel, a Paris-based publishing house, earlier this year.
The reversal of gaze that Watching TV attempts is a discourse that photographers around the globe are chronicling increasingly. Amit Madheshiya, a 29-year-old Mumbai-based photographer, won the first prize at the World Press Photo (arts and entertainment) this year for At a Tent Theatre Near You, his series on people watching cinema in the travelling tent cinemas of Maharashtra. Madheshiya says he hasn’t seen Culmann’s images yet, but that “the excess of media consumption” is forcing photographers to turn an idiom on its head.
Watching TV will be on exhibit from 10-15 December at A-20, The POOL Gallery, Nizamuddin West, New Delhi. Twenty-three images will be on a marked-down sale at €350 (around Rs 24,150) each. Two iconic photographs from the series will be on auction at the closing ceremony on 15 December.
Photographs by Olivier Culmann/Tendance Floue