Strictly Visual: An Analysis
Subhankar Banerjee photographs many stunning natural landscapes. The beautiful landscapes that one sees in his photographs present the viewer with a pleasant image, though his images are meant to be read from other angles as well. A specific text captions functions in conjunction with each photograph, explaining the event that is taking place in the photo. Looking at these photos in a strictly visual sense is therefor challenging since each piece of art is supposed to be intertwined with its textual explanation.
Caribou Migration I exists inside an eighty-six by sixty-eight inch rectangle. This large scale allows for one to see closer details of what is happening in the photo. The beauty of the landscape is magnified in this photograph as we can see individual plants and animals as they move throughout the landscape. This format allows one to take at the beauty of the Utukok River Valley as a whole while also allowing one the option to take a closer look at what is really going on.
The artist also deliberately chose to photograph this scene from the air. This has been a desired vantage point in war photography, allowing one to see views only available from high above the action. From this viewpoint, we get a more complete picture of the caribou and their migration paths than we would from the ground. This viewpoint also helps us to think of the species as a whole, and not of each individual animal, and how they are connected to other things.
The framing choice is also interesting to look into. In this rectangle, we only get to see part of a narrative. There are caribou emerging from three points outside of the picture frame. The viewer sees the caribou on their way somewhere, but what is left out of the frame leaves us to question where they began and where they will end up. It also may inspire a want to see more, to zoom back further to reveal what is going on outside of the frame. Are there more caribou? Are they behaving differently than the ones present here? The framing can spark a viewer’s curiosity and make one want to see a more complete picture.
The composition is mostly white. Banerjee stresses color not as a medium in his work, but as a motif. Most people think of the Arctic as a barren wasteland that only consists of snow and ice. Banerjee wanted to create an image of this landscape with blue and white to reveal the diversity that exists in this place and counter beliefs that this area is a harsh wilderness wasteland.
The white areas seem to be a mixture of snow and ice. This is not a monotone white; one can see the brown plants, imprints of footprints in the snow, traces of the light blue water at the edge of the river, as well as the caribou themselves. The snow does not seem to be very deep, as one can see the life poking through. There are two patches of white in the blue part of the photo that resemble islands. One may see them as a humorous outlook on the cold winter that seems to be depicted, as islands are usually associated with the tropics and warmer climates.
There seem to be two forms of frozen water presented here, again underlining the idea of diversity that Banerjee often stresses in his work. A light blue form intersects the mostly-white composition. A light blue ice river cuts through the white coming from the bottom left corner and continuing across the composition horizontally. There are white patches in this blue river where one can be reminded of water. The crescent-shaped patches resemble caps of waves, invoking the moving body of water that has frozen; the water seems to be frozen still in time as the body of water has physically become frozen in this arctic landscape.
There are darker paths of gray in this blue river form as well. Since the caribou are literally walking over these patches, we know that they are not indentations in the ice. These gray lines may indicate a current deep under the ice. They form lines that may mirror the flow of the river. This flow-like quality is echoed throughout this photograph and can inspire the viewer to contemplate the connectivity of this scene to the rest of the world.
The caribou first appear as black dots, though if one looks more closely, one can make out the body shape of the caribou and see the directions they face. The path seems to be moving downward in general, which gives the photograph a weight toward the bottom. One may think of the force of gravity, another natural force, in alignment with the caribous’ instincts to move wherever they may be heading. The caribou path intersects the blue river as the animals move downward, creating an interesting dynamic in which the natural landscape and the animals present in it function on their own and together.
At the top of the photograph, one single line of caribou emerges from beyond the frame. There are several caribou off to the left of this line and we cannot see a clear line of footprints that would connect them to the main line. They seem to be disconnected from the downward motion of the entire photo. As this line continues downward, it oscillates in a haphazard way. The line breaks and then forms again closer to the river as some caribou seem to move away from the main line of the general flow of the animal movement and then make their way back. As this line crosses the blue portion of ice, they split into two distinct groups. The group on the right seems to be turning inward as the caribou form a curved line. One may get the sense that this group will meet up with the other four caribou and they will move toward the more distinct line of caribou who are also crossing the river to the left.
This group of caribou emerges from the center of the left edge of the photograph. These caribou are more spread out at first and join together near the edge of the river, creating a funnel-like form. Two somewhat parallel lines are created as the caribou cross the river and continue downward, outside of the picture frame. The breaks in this line are more evident; the eye can pick up on the gaps as the caribou are positioned closely together in the connected part of the line. Since this line of caribou can be read more easily as a line, the space where there are no caribou is more alarming to the eye. One can also follow the direction and flow of the line more easily because the footprints in the snow are deeper and more visible, creating a line even when caribou are absent.
The three caribou that are apart from the group as they cross the river are more noticeable and seem to be more isolated, as they contrast with the clear main line. Their bodies seem to be pointed toward the group, which could indicate movement in that direction or simply their awareness that they are part of this larger group. Below the river, the two lines continue downward at a slight diagonal and out of the picture frame.
There is a line of five caribou emerging from the bottom left corner that seems to be swooping down and possibly then upward, creating a “U” like shape. Since there are so few caribou in this group, they could blend into the landscape and be overlooked. They emerge into the photograph on a patch of white, adding to the isolation that this group exhibits.
All of the caribou resemble ants, possibly invoking the idea of looking at something very small. One may be inspired to think of the connectivity of all things, big and small, as they move throughout the environment. The paths the caribou create seem to be deliberate, as they follow each other in line; we are unable to tell what is really happening without the element of time passing. This photograph captures one moment in the lives of these animals, marking this moment as important and leading us to question where they are headed and why.