Constructing the Exotic: Buhler-Rose

26th October 2019

This is a link to Buhler-Roses website where the photographic series called Constructing the Exotic can be found.

Have a look at the whole series at Make some notes in your learning log.

OCA Foundations in Photography Course folder pg84

The series of photographs ‘Constructing the Exotic’ makes use of western women who were raised either in India or have been born into a religious heritage and places them in unfamiliar contemporary western cultured environments. This juxtaposition, to me personally, looks at how alien it must be for tradition people who have been brought up in a culture of purism to see their cultures mixed with western culture and in turn mixed race relationships. However, these photographs were taken in a time when such mixes of races were beginning to be accepted. With world globalisation in our modern world the images within these photographs are not that exotic or ‘strange’ to see anymore.

If we look at the sari’s however, they are very bright and colourful which makes them stand out from the background environments with which they have been placed. If anything it is this that stands out from the images and catches your eyes because my friends who wear saris as part of their daily clothing have colours that are toned down more and only wear bright saris for celebrations.

The make-up and tradition face piercings are now everyday decorations, I have recently had a nostril and septum piercing at the age of fifty, myself, and they do not look out of place or exotic within todays society.

Something that does draw my attention, is the lack of facial expressions and the posed compositions. The paintings do remind me of Raphael’s classical poses and composition but it has the Pre-Raphaelite detail and intense colours, and also like the Pre-Raphaelites paintings a focus point of nature around the sitters. The second likeness, is the photographs of the 19th Century with their compositions which is discussed in the post, ‘The Conversation: Buhler-Rose.’

Below are some comparisons to highlight the similarities of historical painting and photographs.

Below from Buhler-Rose’s ‘Constructing the exotic.’

Comparison one: Pre-Raphaelite paintings

Strong colours – long dresses – green, blue, yellow and orange
Henry Holiday: Dante and Beatrice, 1881
Reclining figures surrounded by nature and strong colours of clothing
Charles Fairfax Murray: The King’s Daughters, 1875
Gathered around with musical instruments and birdbath?
John Williams Waterhouse: A Tale from Decameron, 1916

The symbolism of peacock feathers. The peacock is a native bird to the Indian subcontinent and they are known for their beauty and grace. Depending on ones culture and beliefs peacocks can symbolise many things.

Looking at Bulher-Roses portrait we can see the young women is pregnant and the peacock often symbolises birth and new-life. In Ancient India, peacocks were also regarded as creatures of beauty and were kept in gardens of many palaces and can be seen depicted in India’s art especially that of royal decoration.

If we look at the sari that the young women is wearing in Buhler-Roses portrait it is very exquisites and elegant, adorned with gold patterning. We also notice the young lady behind the focus subject who is holding up the peacock fan, she could be portraying a South Asian domestic servant or even someone who may be the baby’s nanny when it is born. So perhaps the main sitter represents the wealth of India.

It has been quite confusing analysing Michael Buhler-Roses series due to the fact I personally see a number of styles and influences and the biggest problem is time has outgrown ‘Constructing the Exotic’ as it is now quite common place to see Western women dressed in Saris and also Asian women in Western settings.

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