Sooni Taraporevala’s photographs make clear how much like everyone else Parsis are
A man stands with his back to the camera, looking look at the sea. It’s the photograph that begins Sooni Taraporevala’s “Parsis, The Zoroastrians of India,” which runs at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts through Dec. 20.
The title of the photograph is “The man in the sola hat.” It might just as well be “Elbows on parade.” There are the man’s own, held in close to his body. And there’s another, rather more intriguing one, bare and belonging to someone just outside the frame. Jutting into the picture, it’s like an arrow directing the viewer back to the man in the hat.
What makes the photograph quite wonderful is the effortless balance it strikes between the odd and commonplace. The man’s head tilts (which means his hat tilts, too). He holds his umbrella at a tilt. His torso tilts. That jutting elbow tilts, and so do the wings of two birds distantly discernible in the sky. However slightly, numerous elements of the photograph are askew.
What’s commonplace is that the man might be standing anywhere with a breakwater, buildings, and shore. As it happens, the location is Bombay, or Mumbai, as it’s now called. (Taraporevala uses the former name.) But there’s a universal aspect to this tidy-looking fellow taking in the sights.