Photographer Ram Prakash says he wants his canvas to make people look beyond the obvious

Ram Prakash and Deepa Pinto’s debut photo-fiction work, The Stopover, is an unusual combination of photography, fiction and fact.

The book promises “4 stories, in 4 locations, brought alive with over 100 photos”, of Tibetans across the country (largely in Ladakh and Karnataka), of Channapatna wooden toys, a Toda settlement in Ooty and a fish breeding site off Chennai in Kolathur. Select images from each of these four locations are on display at Ranga Shankara.

“When I started off, I didn’t have any particular place in mind. I just wanted a large backdrop, a canvas as I saw it with simple stories,” says Ram, a marketing-advertising executive turned photographer. This is his debut book. “I wanted the canvas to make people see beyond those obvious without self-pity or seeming preachy.”

Ten years into corporate life, Ram decided to take a break and pursue his passion of photography. And so he took up a course in photography in Ooty and decided to take up a project by the end of the course.

“I didn’t want to do commercial photography because then it becomes a job. Instead, I looked for a way to bring out stories that contribute to society, though not in a major way. Initially I didn’t think of a book, I only knew I had to marry photography and storytelling. Then I thought of photo fiction.”

That was when he approached his long-time friend Deepa Pinto, a German teacher, and asked her to write for him. The next few months were spent travelling across the country and opening up to the experiences these places had to offer.

“We chose subjects that were visually appealing and had a deep context so that the story would become an inner journey. It’s like expanding your horizons and getting to know yourself better. If a consumer is going to pay Rs. 495 and pick it up, it should have good quality photographs, and it should talk about things that people wouldn’t find on Google or Wikipedia because these are things which one learns on the field. It’s like reading Arthur Hailey. Though you learn about industries by the end of the book, you read it because it’s good fiction.”

For instance, being with the Todas, Ram found, was an eye-opener. “They are a very simple community and money simply doesn’t play a role in their relationships with each other. There are 69 settlements with over 2000 people and they all know each other’s names. If there’s a wedding, there is at least one representative from each family. And if a family doesn’t have enough money, everybody pitches in,” he points out. “There is no concept of a safety net and they live in the moment. Everything we read in scriptures is practiced in their community. Their lives are lessons.”

The exhibition at Ranga Shankara, has on display photographs of the Toda temple, a Toda youth lifting a 100 kg boulder to prove his strength as part of a ritual, a girl showcasing her hair braided in the community fashion and wearing the traditional shawl, among more. In fact, Ram explained, the name “Ootacamund” is said to have been derived from the phrase “Ootakal-mund” which means one-stone Toda village (since s Toda village is called ‘mund’, which means herd of cattle since they are a buffalo-rearing community). Excerpts of the story of Vijay, a Toda guide and Ritika a tourist at Ooty accompanies the photographs.

The exhibition will be on display at Ranga Shankara through the month.

The Stopover is available on Flipkart and in Sapna Book House. For details, contact 99450 36461 or 98450 76384.