What can photographic form teach us about feminist historiography? Through close readings of photographs by visual artist and documentary photographer Sheba Chhachhi, who documented the struggle for women’s rights in India from the 1980s onward, this article outlines the political stakes of documentary photography’s formal conventions. First, it analyzes candid snapshots of recent protests for women’s rights in India, focusing on an iconic photograph by Chhachhi of Satyarani Chadha, a community organizer and women’s rights activist, at a rally in New Delhi in 1980. It attends to the way in which such photographs turn personal scenes of mourning into collective memorials to militancy, even as they embalm their subjects in a state of temporal paralysis and strip them of their individual history. It contrasts these snapshots to Chhachhi’s collaborative portrait of Chadha from 1990, a “feminist still” that deploys formal conventions of stillness to stage temporal encounters between potential histories and unrealized futures. Throughout, the article returns to the untimeliness of Chhachhi’s photography, both in the multiple temporalities opened up within the image and in its avant-garde critique of feminist politics through experiments with photographic form.
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Research Article| December 01 2020
Lakshmi Padmanabhan; A Feminist Still: Documentary Form and Untimely Critique in Sheba Chhachhi’s Protest Photography. Camera Obscura 1 December 2020; 35 (3 (105)): iv–29. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-8631535
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