Raj Shetye's photoshoot "The Wrong Turn" is drawing widespread flak and outrage this week because the photos, shot inside a bus, are reminiscent of the gruesome December 2012 gang rape and murder of a New Delhi physiotherapy student.
That brutal crime put India in the international spotlight in terms of the way it handles issues of women's safety, and all four of the defendants received the rarely delivered sentence of death for the crime. Indeed, the memory of their heinous act continues to resonate in India, something Shetye clearly hadn't taken into account when he uploaded the photos on his personal website and Behance, a platform for online portfolios.
Shetye first denied that the shoot was inspired by the gang rape. "This is in no way meant to glamorize the act, which was very bad," he told BuzzFeed. "It's just a way of throwing light on [the issue]." Shetye tried to argue that he was raising awareness of the overarching problem, not painting it in a positive light. "We stay in a society where rich people roam in cars, and poor people who roam in public transport are in danger. It was my intent to mix these two things which are pretty apart from each other and make aesthetically strong images about it."
That argument fell flat with the majority of viewers, however, who quickly took to social media to voice their disgust. One of the first to respond was music director Vishal Dadlani, who tweeted this to his 640,000 followers. That sentiment was swiftly echoed across the platform.
The insentivity of this project also seemed to be lost on the models who participated in the shoot. Jitin Gulati, one of the men in the photos tweeted a link of the photoshoot proudly, asking followers to check out his new work. But both Gulati and the photographer took down the photos from their respective Behance pages after angry reactions on Twitter and Facebook.
But when told about the negative reactions his photoshoot was attracting, Shetye reportedly stuck to his guns, saying that he felt satisfied that he had started a conversation. "At least the work I did is so impactful that I'm able to shed some light on this. I don't feel happy, but it makes me feel satisfied. That whatever I've tried to communicate is being communicated."
As he told Indian TV channel IBNLive: "Consider this. I did with photography what a writer would do if he had to write about that incident."
The photographer certainly started a conversation, but the glamorization of a horrifying act of violence is neither an effective nor an appropriate way to spark meaningful dialogue or change. As we've seen too many times in the past, photographers — and advertisers and marketers — can do much better when it comes to their use of the female body and female issues for purposes of commercial usage. Violence against women is not a backdrop for couture, nor is it an edgy way to launch a brand or announce a new clothing line. Anything else is at best ignorant, and at worst, a gross capitalization of a young woman's tragedy for personal gain.
Image Credit (all): BuzzFeed