Six months ago, an Indian and a Russian met at a photo exhibition. The Indian asked the Russian, “Hey, do you want to get together and take some pictures of Pallava temples?” The enthusiastic Russian agreed immediately, leading to an interesting Indo-Russian artistic collaboration.
“I did not want to do this alone,” Shankar Adisesh, a retired Chemical engineer-turned-photographer is quick to admit. “To travel all the way and not have any company could be boring. But this gave us both an opportunity to look at things differently. From an Indian and a foreign perspective,” he says, about a trip that took the duo to Mahabalipuram, Kancheepuram, Mamandur and Panamalai.
As for Yuri Sysoyev, who has been in Chennai for 10 years, here was an opportunity to indulge in his “passionate hobby”. It was simple and safe to come together to see this project through, he says, admitting that his interests, however, lay more in photographing landscapes.
“But it has been interesting to see the monuments from two different angles: as a tourist and as a person with a keen interest in it,” he adds, disclosing that temple architecture has found a place in the Russian's heart.
But before embarking on such a journey, both men realised that they needed to learn a lot more about the places they were to visit – its history, architecture and design. “In temple architecture, nothing is randomly placed or structured,” observes Yuri. “I needed to understand why a certain panel was carved a certain way or why a goddess had four arms?”
Similar questions plagued Shankar, who could not shake the engineer in him. “I am not religious and I don't think in terms of mythology. I am an engineer and I have to understand and study what I am shooting,” he says. “Many of the structures were gauged out of rocks. Back then, they must have formulated what we call structural support today.”
To help with answers to their questions, the duo approached historian Chithra Madhavan, who specialises in temple architecture for key points to begin their journey with. “I told them about less-known monuments in places such as Panamalai and Mamandur,” says Chithra.
“I also shared some interesting details of the famous Pallava temples,” she says, pointing to Yuri's picture of a rock that is north of the Shore Temple. “In the commonly seen Mahishasuramardhini panel, Durga is shown killing the demon Mahishasura. Here in this rock, Durga's lion is pouncing on the demon.”
As for future projects, Yuri plans to document the landscapes in rural Tamil Nadu.
“Maybe I will travel at a more suitable time, in winter,” he says, making you wonder if you missed the Russian humour. An exhibition of their photographs is on at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture till April 3.