Deborah

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"Just one more, darlings."
Deborah Abramson

This piece is a reprint of a photograph by Gregory Colbert from his blockbuster exhibition Ashes & Snow, which travels the world in the Nomadic Museum. The exhibition website claims that over a million people have visited the exhibition of large-scale photographs. Colbert's images are disseminated in the cities visited by the Nomadic Museum via high-profile advertising campaigns. As such, they are widely recognizable in those cities, even if Colbert's name is not widely known.

Colbert describes his work as a "21st-century bestiary" that captures "extraordinary interactions between humans and animals." I believe Ashes & Snow to be a project that exoticizes and primitivizes people of South Asian and African descent, portraying them as vessels of some "authentic," yet completely unthreatening, spirituality. The people in his photographs are distinctly other than the Ashes & Snow visitors - relegated to unspeaking, often unseeing positions as objects of the civilized gaze. Their staged performances of communion with trained wild animals are posited by Colbert's photographs as evidence of a natural understanding between them. Indeed, the emphasis on "the natural" in the photographs collides with the obviously contrived poses of the performers, both human and animal.

Added to this photograph is a second image I found on a travel website. The caption is from a New Yorker cartoon by William Steig. I intend to cut across the veneer of beauty in the photograph, drawing attention to the performance captured, as well as the compromised relationship between the performers, photographer, and viewers.

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