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Phnom Penh Photo 2012 –Mahesh Shantaram

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If the photographer himself was not Indian, chances are that we would have been criticized for presenting a caricature image of India, a type of kitsch, of laughable practices. However, the look that this documentary artist takes at the exceptional sense of color is in fact a vision from inside out. It is of very great finesse, after we have gotten over the inevitable impulse to laugh or smile when looking at this array of scenes both brilliant and facetious. Behind the appearance, there is nothing but emptiness. Everything glimmers, but it’s only cardboard—or rather gilded plastic—and the choice of capturing the moments before or after the ceremony proves to be more than informative. The apparent rigidity soon turns out to be replaced by awful disorder and the work that concludes with attention to personalities becomes almost pathetic. This time of joy and celebration that is supposed to be matrimony fills us with sadness as the author explores the real, not playing up the spectacular, and goes far beyond the appearances that characterize what is photographed. Our smiles turn to frowns when we become aware that the “Welcome Drink” is something sinister and that the social appearances, conventions, rituals, sequins and blinking lights have nothing to do with happiness or pleasure. In the end it leaves us utterly disconsolate.

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