Photobook Review: Elsa, the Dog that Couldn’t Guard

For 13 years, Elsa kept Sohrab Hura’s mother (Ma) company as she struggled against separation and mental illness. This is the story of Elsa’s life, her death, and the love that Ma felt for her.

© Sohrab Hura, spread from the book Look It's Getting Sunny Outside!!!

"I resented her in the beginning," writes Sohrab Hura’s mother. "But she would tug away at my clothes all day with her little teeth and look at me with those little eyes…." And so Ma learned to love Elsa, the ‘ugly dog’ after which Hura’s publishing house is named.

Elsa chewed the table legs, she stole the balls from the children playing cricket in the street, she slept as the family car was stolen, oblivious as she snored under the quilt. She was a proper dog in other words, in touch with a "dogness" that slipped easily into the chaotic home where Ma scattered her clothing, her bedding, her food.

© Sohrab Hura, spread from the book Look It's Getting Sunny Outside!!!

Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! is a love story, between Ma, Elsa and Hura himself. It’s an extension of his photographic struggle to come to grips with his mother’s mental illness; an illness detailed in his earlier book, Life is Elsewhere. In Life is Elsewhere, the story was a fragmented, psychotic rendition of Hura seeking external refuge from his home, his family, his mother, and the father that had left them. In Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!!, as Ma’s condition improves, Hura photographs more in the home, capturing his mother’s relationship with her beloved dog, Elsa.

There’s a reconciliation of sorts between Ma and the husband who had left her 15 years earlier (so precipitating her mental illness), but the book is primarily about the bond between Ma and Elsa. It’s a beautiful and very moving story. It starts with the two of them in bed, their bodies under the covers, Elsa looking one way, Ma the other, an old couple at peace with each other, the idiosyncrasies of Elsa, her ball obsessions, her quizzical looks, her droopy face running parallel to those of Ma, her expressive eyes, her medication, her exhaustion, her sadness, and her love and dedication for Elsa.

© Sohrab Hura, spread from the book Look It's Getting Sunny Outside

Visually, it’s a story of domestic chaos, of a house that deteriorates or improves depending on Ma’s mental state. So it’s the interior as autobiography. It’s a home that is alive with energy. There is wildlife – cockroaches, shrews, geckos and street dogs. Life falls over the edges and inundates, the stained walls, floors and beds of the house. Ma sleeps, Elsa sleeps, under blankets and sheets and stretches of coloured fabrics that are stained with the seeping of Elsa’s fading life. And as Elsa slowly passes, so Ma joins her on the floor holding her, caressing her, comforting her as she fades from this life into another.

"The last moments of her life were hard..." writes Ma. Elsa had a tumour that oozed blood, she couldn’t stand anymore. "I missed that she could not climb on to the bed and press against my legs while she slept. I miss that she no longer gave me that condescending look whenever I was late in giving her food. Even now as I write this I can’t stop my tears from falling."

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Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!! by Sohrab Hura

Self-published in 2018 // Hardback // 22.9 x 16.5 cm

BUY HERE

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Sohrab Hura is an Indian photographer based in New Dehli. He is an Associate member of Magnum Photos and he is currently the coordinator of the Anjali House children’s photography workshop that takes place during the Angkor Photo Festival, Cambodia.

Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, All Quiet on the Home Front, focuses on family, fatherhood and the landscape. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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