Big brag theory: images from the 1936/35 Australian cricket tour of India. (18767)
In 1935 a team of Australian cricketers departed Melbourne embarking on the inaugural tour of India. Ignorant of the East and oblivious to the cultural collision that would ensure, the cricketers’ photographic documentation and accumulated cricket ephemera are revealing of the experience.
This research interrogates the tourism narrative at play in colonial India through the backdrop of Edward Said’s Orientalist theory. The photos provide a rare and otherwise unobtainable glimpse into the tour and captured the cultural relations and the nature of the mise en scène of the tour in ways that other historical sources haven’t despite the obviously loaded nature of the tourist, albeit cricketing tourist, as photographer. The analysis of the images segues into a discussion on colonial fantasy and the expectations and presumptions of Indian stereotypes of the Orient. I will reference the seminal and widely influential photographic theories of Susan Sontag, and subsequent photographic theorists, and utilise the interrogation of the Orient by Said to clarify my contention.
A close dissemination of the photographic images reveals the triangular relationship between ‘the photographer, subject/object, and viewer, which suggests the motivational forces behind the production of such images, simultaneously assuming its influence on content and form’ (Engmann 2012: 46). Engmann suggests that colonial imagery operates as a ‘tool of the Empire’ and the act of taking a photograph reinforces, not just the process of creating a representation of a scene/event but also the hegemony inherent in the practice of image making (2012:46). The imagery identifies the relationship between the East and the West and emphasises the ever-popular fascination with the Orient as a culturally elitist subject of study. Voyeurism played a significant role in colonial photography with the tourist observing and recording the exotic customs of the East.
Sontag’s somewhat cynical assessment accurately reflects the portrayal of the tourist, armed with a camera, as a recurrent stereotype in popular culture and could appropriately be applied to the team of Australian cricketers.