When you have coffee with R Shantaram and N Ramaswamy, the conversation invariably centres around Chennai; whether it is about similar photos they posted at the same time or the difficulty of chronicling a city through pictures. They’re both in the Human Resources field and found each other online around the same time. Ramaswamy brings out Chennai in its present form while Shantaram has taken to glorifying its heritage and historic past. Considering they’ve been at it for a good four years, these lensmen know their city like the back of their hand.
Ramaswamy decided to click pictures when he bought a new camera. “I wanted to use my camera and I can’t write. So, I thought I’d take pictures of the city I grew up in and put one up everyday.” So, in February 2008, he began ‘Almost Daily’, a picture blog that would bring out the flavour of this city. “It was called that because sometimes I couldn’t post everyday. Now, of course, I call it Chennai Daily Photo.”
His pictures talk about the city in its present forms, its vibrant colours and the people. “It’s about capturing what you see and what you feel about the city. I am also very involved in the Photowalks that happen here and decided to use those pictures on the blog. This is, ironically, how I began to gather readership on the blog. You meet so many different people on the photowalks, and if they like your pictures and follow your work, they will recommend it to someone else, who will share it with others.”
A native of Chettinad, Ramaswamy feels that one can’t run out of moments to capture in this city. “My photography is mainly candid and you always find something interesting no matter where you go. If it’s the mango season, that becomes my subject or something like the monsoon. This city is so full of life and yet so grounded. Initially, I would wonder why I found Chennai so fascinating and then I realised that it’s a place that’s got everything from temples to an active nightlife but it’s never in-your-face. Then again, it is my city”
Ramaswamy has about 1,400 odd photos in his collection so far. “Sometimes I shoot a series of pictures; like street names, and right now I’m working on a people series, which has reached its 100 week. I think my best pictures so far are of the temples and churches I’ve taken. There are some old places that I’ve even discovered through my photography. But usually, I leave the history to Shantaram,” he laughs.
Shantaram was inspired by a similar blog in Paris. “I used to follow the Paris Daily Photo blog and decided to start one here. I began in April 2008, and a couple of months later, stumbled across Ram’s blog and realised we were doing the same thing,” he says.
He has not only become an expert on Chennai but also its history. “I started off with random pictures and gradually settled into history. For me, a picture is just a prop to tell a story. I’ve been here all my life and grew up listening to stories about it. Also, in my old job, we had a lot of people from the USA coming down to look at the city and they had a lot of misconceptions about it. I took a liking to history so that I can clear those; tell them that Chennai is where modern India began and there is no dearth of history here.”
All his pictures are accompanied by its historic relevance, and he has written about 600 different elements so far. “I’ve not included the repetitions,” he laughs, “I recently put up a post about Vivekananda Illam. I’ve already written on it, to be technically right but decided to look at it from a different angle. My favourite so far has been a series I did on buildings inside Fort St. George, especially the arsenal and King’s Barracks, which can no longer be accessed by the public.”
His blog has been featured in The Dawn as well. “I wrote about the D’Angelis hotel and its founder Giacomo D’Angelis. His grandson commented on that post and corrected a fact that I had gotten wrong. This man had later been interviewed by this Pakistani paper, where he had provided a link to my blog,” Shantaram explains
Shantaram feels that it is challenging to come up with a new topic everyday and even took a break from blogging last year. “The whole idea is to discover something new everyday. I usually take off on a Sunday afternoon and find reasons to post different pictures. It’s challenging to do it everyday, especially when you have another job. I took a break in between and now I’m back to being regular,” he smiles.
Shantaram and Ramaswamy post their pictures together on https://www.facebook.com/TheChennaiDailyPhoto