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Updated: May 6, 2010 17:13 IST

The salt stories

RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN
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V. Karthik and Sujatha Shankar Prasad
V. Karthik and Sujatha Shankar Prasad

Two photographers, Sujatha Shankar Prasad and V. Karthik, join hands to tell stories in print.

While a few students are seen lost in their studies in the silent library room of the American Centre, it's off colour walls with a few aqua blue and mostly black and white photographs attract attention with a silence of another kind — the silence which a city-bred commoner probably didn't even care to listen to. Sometimes a picture doesn't need words to explain its content, but in the case of these photographs, words lend them a fairytale air, turning them into legends. It also draws attention to the most utilised, yet the most ignored ingredient in a household — salt.

Two photographers, Chicago-based Sujatha Shankar Prasad and Chennai-based V. Karthik, chose to tell the tale of salt making from the mines at Marakkanam on the outskirts of Puducherry. Photographs detailing the process of natural salt making in the sun, as well as those of Chicago River reflecting images of the Chicago skyscrapers form this exhibition titled “Barking Tree and other places: Mythologies in the Landscape” at The American Centre.

Says Karthik, “The salt mines at Puducherry play a very symbolic role for me — of free human spirit and Mahatma Gandhi. If you see these vast seascapes in summers, you will not find any human activity there. From morning to evening, salt gathers at the shores and the sun crystallises it, forming numerous, shining, uniform mounds. Landscape is hardly visible as salt forms the backwaters of the sea. Human activity happens much later when a huge mountain of salt gets naturally prepared and people from villages come to collect it. This is their only source of sustenance. And in my lab, every day I work with this water, light, shade and brightness. I could relate to the natural process.”

Interesting shots

Both Sujatha and Karthik took several interesting shots of the salt making process and the former has woven them into heart-warming tales. For instance, in a picture, an alert dog is seen sitting near a mountain of salt, almost guarding it, and a tree in the shape of a dog is called barking tree. A third picture shows a woman with a basket of salt heading homewards. Sujatha weaves them with a beautiful story that touches your heart.

The prints are achieved using a traditional method no longer utilised. “Marakkanam are primarily black and white prints on fibre using traditional photographic methods from 35mm T max negative film. Tonal processes have also been explored in the colour prints for the Chicago River series, which were originally shot on Ilford XP2, a monochromatic film with a chromomeric base,” says Karthik.

Says Sujatha, “In 1995 I took shots of the Chicago River on 35 mm and kept their negatives for ages. But as I wanted to take pictures out of them, they had lost quality. That's what brought me to V. Karthik in Chennai, who works in conservation and traditional photography.”

The show continues till May 21.

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