Hundred photographs featuring South Indian temples and festivals published as a coffee-table book

His job as an insurance agent in the 1930s demanded constant travelling across the country. But Manavasi Krishnaswami Rangaswami Iyengar's true clients seemed to be historical monuments, temples and landscapes. An amateur photographer, MKR captured them with a rudimentary camera using glass slides with great passion.

Thirty seven years after his death, a hundred photographs featuring mainly South Indian temples and festivals have been published as a coffee-table book, ‘Snapshots from a bygone era: A century of images'.

“The most striking aspects of his images are the composition and the way he has anticipated and used light. There is also proof that he had immense patience when it came to photography,” said Iqbal K Mohamed, founder and director—Academics, Light and Life Academy, Udhagamandalam, in his foreword to the book.

MKR was born in 1886 in Srivilliputhur and became a teacher after his graduation. It was during this period that he came into contact with a British photographer, who sold him his camera before leaving for England. Thus began his life long passion for photography, though he went on to become the manager of Empire of India, a British Insurance Company in Chennai.

“When colour films made their appearance in India, he was not keen on shooting with them. Instead, he began experimenting with sepia toning and even hand colouring to add to the variety of his images,” Mr Iqbal Mohamed explained. He had his own dark room at home.

Historian Chithra Madhavan, who has written the text for the book, said MKR had an unerring eye for beautiful artefacts and had captured the grace and fluidity of motion of Lord Nataraja in an ancient metal image made by an anonymous artisan.

The photographs taken mostly in 1930s and 1940s provide a perspective on how these monuments looked then before being renovated in the recent years. The Adi Varaha cave-temple in Mamallapuram and the Brihadishwara temple in Gangaikondacholapuram are a few examples. MKR also wrote regularly in The Hindu and his son M.R. Madhavan worked as the Personnel Manager of the paper.

“He was an avid chess player, an archaeologist and a lover of music, who also published booklets such as Mahabalipuram, Thyagaraja Thatthuvam and Therindhu Paadalaam,” recalled Jayalakshmi Srinivasan, MKR's daughter.

M.S. Krishnan, grandson of MKR, and his wife Radhika, who are instrumental in publishing the book, said there were over 2,000 negatives and they had donated around 1,000 of them to the C.P.Ramaswami Iyer Foundation.

Mr Krishnan on Sunday handed over the book's first copy to N. Murali, Director, Kasturi and Sons Ltd.

Ms. Radhika said the family had plans to bring out more series featuring other topics.