STYLE CHECK: Where is the so-called 'art' in Indian 'gang rape' photo shoot?

As photographer invokes artistic expression, questions raised over merits of running controversial photos

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 6:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 11:04am

Another week, another tasteless fashion shoot gone viral.

This time it’s Mumbai photographer Raj Shetye’s fashion editorial, titled “The Wrong Turn”, featuring a glamorous model in a cocktail dress being grabbed and groped on a bus by several men.

Now, there are fewer issues more contentious, sensitive or tragic as what happened to Jyoti Singh after she was gang-raped aboard a public bus in Delhi on her way home from the cinema. She died later in a Singapore hospital despite efforts to save her.

The incident sparked nationwide protests, legislative reform in 2013 and debate on all strata of Indian society. So it is no surprise that once Shetye’s shoot went viral, outrage has poured from social media in India and around the world.

Some of the images seem harmless enough, and are of several models posing in the bus.

Others, however, show a female model in an obvious state of distress being grabbed at by several of the male models.

Shetye, however, has claimed his shoot had nothing to do with the Delhi incident, and was conceived before it happened.

Yet, even if this is true, you wonder how he could have failed to see the implications of publishing the shoot while the case is still at the forefront of national and international consciousness.

“This is in no way meant to glamorise the act, which was very bad,” Shetye told BuzzFeed. “It’s just a way of throwing light on it.”

This follows Franca Sozzani’s tasteless “domestic abuse” fashion shoot in Vogue Italia which sparked similar controversy and disgust, yet she defended the shoot as a way of bringing attention to the issue.

Shetye, remarkably, claimed the same thing in a correspondence with The Independent, saying that the shoot was inspired by the restrictions and prejudice he saw around him.

“It’s unfortunate that I am compelled to justify my artistic expression around a social issue,” he told The Independent, then went on to say he was glad he had sparked debate on the issue.

“If the cost to set the ball-rolling here is that I have [to] be the bad guy, then [so be it].”

I’m really not sure if Shetye is suffering from stupidity or ignorance to think that his “contribution” to the issue of rape or general sexism and violence against women in India is constructive in anyone’s world.

Idiotic at best, disgusting and disrespectful at worst, seems to be the sentiment online.

Artistic expression, in this case, is limited by it being a glamorous fashion shoot featuring beautiful models in beautiful clothes, as I argued in the case of the Vogue Italia shoot.

What good this shoot does exactly, people are all wondering. These ill-conceived, heavy-handed attempts within fashion to bring light to social issues are often not malicious in intent, but increasingly exasperating to onlookers worldwide, even within the industry.