Kirthana Devdas is a candid wedding photographer, who is also involved in documenting cultures and people

Her passion for photography began in the second year of college when she was fiddling around with her father’s old Olympus OM 10. A love for people and a good eye for candid photography turned Kirthana Devdas into a wedding photographer at the age of 23. She is based in Coimbatore and says her assignments all happen through word of mouth.

“Candid wedding photography captures those natural fleeting moments that make a wedding special and preserves them for a lifetime.” Kirthana points to a photograph of Shradha and Vel. “Look at them. They planned to surprise everyone by making their entry with a Bollywood dance number. But I caught them hiding in the corridor!” she laughs.

Capturing shy glances, tears of joy and booming smiles, all part and parcel of weddings, is what she does best with her full frame Nikon D 700.

The modern wedding photographer has her work cut out, says Kirthana. “We need to get into the personal space of our clients to make them comfortable. We interact with the family and friends of the bride and the groom to get familiar with our environment.”

Packaging is as important as photography, says Kirthana. “When you present an album to your clients, you offer them a certain experience. It takes at least four weeks to come up with the final product.”

Flipping through the wedding albums is like watching a film. “My interest in films definitely adds a layer to my work. I attended a screenwriting workshop under Kamal Haasan in 2009 to enhance my storytelling skills. In wedding photography, the photographs tell the story of the wedding as it was.”

A Visual Communication graduate from MOP Vaishnav College, Kirthana specialised in advertisement photography. After this, she spent a year at the Light and Life Academy in the Nilgiris, where she did a diploma in photography. “I met the finest of professors who were sharp and open in their criticism. I had to break out of my comfort zone and work hard. Some of my best work happened during this phase of my life.”

Documenting culture

She has done 15 weddings and events in different parts of India in the last two years. Besides wedding photography, Kirthana also does cultural documentation projects with NGOs. She worked with Via Media, a communication design studio, to design a coffee table book, Possibilities Through Interventional Radiology, by Mathew Cherian. With Via Media, she also collaborated with Mudumalai Tiger Reserve to document the selfless service of forest guards, especially as they fight forest fires.

She was commissioned by the Keystone Foundation to document the crafts of the indigenous tribes of the Nilgiris for their 2012 calendar. They covered four main tribes in the Nilgiris — the Kotas, Todas, Irulas and Cholanaickens.

She says working with the tribes was very different from doing wedding photography. “We had to first get friendly with them and gain their trust before we could proceed with our work. It was a learning experience as well. They were so self sufficient. They make their own vessels and stitch their own clothes. If we had to live like them, we would be clueless.” Kirthana was struck by the cultural diversity of the tribes. “From the language they spoke to the way in they braided their hair, I saw how dearly they treasured their culture. I feel the need of the hour is to tap this diversity.”

This enthusiasm to document diverse cultures led her to pursue an individual project of documenting Theyyam, a ritual art of Northern Kerala. “Theyyam used to be a community event in my home town in Kerala. Cultural practices like these are being forgotten now. I wanted to preserve it through my lens. This was also a personal quest to understand my roots.” There is a painting of a Theyyam artist on her wall at home. “I used to paint a lot as a child. I mostly did black-and-white sketches. In college, the first two years, I specialised in fine arts.” Photography has allowed her to explore the artist in herself, says Kirthana.

But it is real-life photography where her heart lies. “I am drawn to people and their stories. To capture life in its real form is a lot more challenging and satisfying.”

Client Response

It all boils down to that final phone call when the albums are presented. Once, the grandparents of a client called to congratulate me. I was thrilled that my work was well-received across the three generations in that house. Client loyalty gives you unparalleled satisfaction. Once you become well acquainted with their close friends and family, work becomes easier and more enjoyable.

Portrait of a Hospital

I captured Interventional Radiology procedures, diagnostics, medical instruments, portraits of the hospital staff and hospital infrastructure of Kovai Medical Center and Hospital. I had to step up my tempo as the environment in a hospital is fast paced.

Tryst With Tribals

A project with the Keystone Foundation, Kotagiri. I had to first gain the tribals’ trust before proceeding with work. From the language they speak to the way they braid their hair, they treasure their culture.

Culture calling

Cultural practices such as the Theyyam, a community event in Kerala, are slowly being forgotten. This project was also a personal quest to understand my roots

Guards of the Forest

A project that demanded spontaneity. I had to shadow my subjects without distracting them. It was humbling to watch these men put their lives at risk to set right the recklessness of tourists and grazers.