Ironically, what is remembered of the retouched photographs of Sri Aurobino is the precession of simulacra across the screen of hypermodern consciousness. This accelerating technomaya disappears the questing subject, who Sri Aurobindo envisioned in the first half of the 20th century as the transitional human form. One who through cultivation of the psychic being's puissant silence fashion a liminal environment to channel supramental consciousness into human evolution. In contrast the hyperreal desiring machines of neo-liberal globalization consume the psychic imagination of "real idea" and excrete it as simulacra.
For those who fashion Sri Aurobindo into either cultural hero or spiritual avatar their desire follows a similar although more ancient trajectory in which the real is replaced by simulacrum; the fashioning of idols. Today long after his passing the retouched images of Sri Aurobindo demonstrate just how easily the eidos of photography shape-shifts as the eidolon of photography.
To Cartier-Bresson the camera was an “instrument of intuition and spontaneity –the master of the instant which in visual terms questions and decides simultaneously” Like the Zen archer Cartier Bresson’s process involved silencing the mind before engaging the photographic act, when his finger triggered the shutter, all thought was stilled as the Zen photographer targeted his subject with an arrow of light.
When he shot a portrait he looked for an inner silence. He said “I seek to translated the personality not expression”.
The force of photography is that it prolongs instants which the normal flow of time immediately closes. This freezing of time—the insolent, poignant stasis of each photograph—is what produces beauty To take a photograph means to recognize – simultaneously and within a fraction of a second– both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. As Cartier-Bresson said It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis. (Magnum Photos)
If there was any photographer qualified to take photographs of Sri Aurobindo it was Henri Cartier Bresson,....
One of the most interesting things about the negative reception among the Sri Aurobindo Ashram community to the recent biography The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs has to do with the actual photograph with which the author chose to represent Sri Aurobindo on its cover. In the photograph Sri Aurobindo heroically posed stares unflinchingly into the camera, his dark brown eyes shine with the fire of a revolutionary his face radiates with the tranquil composure of a yogi. It was an image that the author admitted his fondness for while seeming perplexed that others would prefer a retouched version of the photograph.
About the above retouched photograph -whose original no longer exists- Heehs writes: “There is hardly a trace of shadow between the ears, with the result that the face has no character. The sparkling eyes have been painted in, even the hair has been given a gloss. As a historical document it is false.” (Heehs)
Susan Sontag in her essay Photography: The Beauty Treatment, gives us a brief history of the retouched photograph “People want the idealized image: a photograph of themselves looking their “best.” They feel rebuked when the camera doesn’t return an image of themselves as more attractive than they really are. But few are lucky enough to be “photogenic”—that is, to look better in photographs (even when not made-up or flattered by special lighting) than in real life. That photographs are often praised for their candor, their honesty, indicates that most photographs, of course, are not candid. A decade after the Englishman Fox Talbot’s negative-positive process had begun replacing the French daguerreotype in the early 1840s, a German photographer invented the first technique for retouching the negative. His two versions of the same portrait—one retouched, the other not—astounded crowds at the World Exposition held in Paris in 1855 (one of the earliest worlds, and the first with a photography exhibit). The news that the camera could lie made getting photographed much more popular.” (Sontag)
The fact that the book’s detractors would prefer to replace the original representation, that captured the actual photons that emanated from his body, in favor of an image that was retouched, that is in essence an artistic rendition testifies to the power of the floating signifier to unconsciously structure conscious perceptions and to transpose the “mana” of a belief system into “floating chains of signifieds” that becomes the “doxa” of the community. But is the difference between the original and the retouched images simply a matter of preferring an image faithful to the truth to one that is a historical lie?