'The Angel copiers' opens at Rohtas

Published: May 7, 2010

One of the photographs exhibited by Malcolm Hutcheson.

ISLAMABAD: A photography exhibition by Malcolm Hutcheson opened at Rohtas Gallery on Wednesday The collection, titled ‘The Angelcopiers’, depicts the bitter reality of hijras, the eunuch and transvestite community.

Hutcheson is an assistant professor of Photographic Arts at Beaconhouse National University’s School of Visual Arts in Lahore. Originally from Scotland, he has been working in Pakistan for about 10 years. “I am very interested in collecting history and comparing it to what life is like now,” he said, in a telephonic interview. “The technique that I use makes the portrait look oldfashioned,” he explained.

Hutcheson is the only modern practitioner of Ruh Khitch photography. Traditional Ruh Khitch is a technique by which black and white photographs can be taken and printed without a studio or darkroom. Ruh Khitch is a Punjabi phrase which literally translates to ‘spirit pulling’, and refers to the way the photographer puts his hand inside the camera and pulls out the photograph, according to Hutcheson’s website.

The title, ‘The Angelcopiers’, comes from a quote in The Photographic Journal published in India in 1859, about the medium of photography, “….to shape an ideal purity, nobleness or bravery, that it will do-never.” “It is at best an angel copier; a god-like machine of which light and sunshine is the animating Promethean fire.

Put it higher and you degrade Art to the worshipper of a machine,” according to a press release. In the pictures on display, transsexuals wearing faded clothes, rise boldly out of the image with their dull expressions. Hutcheson manages to capture the emotion in their eyes and evokes the pain of the harsh reality the hijras have to live through. He said the exhibition is only 10 per cent of the work he did over four months; “I used to spend a couple of hours with each person individually.”

Hutcheson said those hijras he photographed were not hesitant and very comfortable with posing for the camera. “It is not that these individuals belong to the dark side of the society; rather it is society itself which is dark, where they tend to see them [hijras] as inferior and neglect them.” The portraits are a selection from more than 300 taken in 2009.

The backdrops were once used in the Marathi Sangeet Natak Theatre in Bombay, which allow for a displacement of time and history, connecting the members of this community with hijras from previous times, according to a press release. The theatrical settings of the plays have been continuously used in literature, theatre and cinema, so the space created for these portraits allows for fantasy and performance.

“It is not surprising that, living in a society which does not allow them to have an identity as individuals, they can only truly become themselves in a recreated space. “I would like the audience of Islamabad to like my work and understand different sexualities,” said Hutcheson. The exhibition will continue till May 15.

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