Shiju S. Basheer’s ‘Unscripted Lives’ has a story behind each frame

The phrase a picture is worth a thousand words holds good in Shiju S. Basheer’s exhibition of photographs. ‘Unscripted Lives’ is a collection of candid shots clicked by Shiju who travels quite a bit as part of his job as visual effects supervisor at TV Arts Production House, Dubai. ‘Unscripted Lives’ has pictures that gives a bird’s eye view into the artiste’s mind. His travels to Ethiopia and Nepal seem to have left a deep impact on him as he has a modest portfolio of photographs from these countries. If he has trained his lens on the tribal groups in Ethiopia, it is faces that he zooms in on mostly in Nepal.

Faces, especially that of the elderly, fascinates Shiju. Each close up shot of the faces, some in sepia tint, has a story to tell. Even without saying a word the faces seem to be telling viewers a story; a story about their lives that might have been filled with adventure, comedy, tragedy… The photographer sums the feel of his series of photographs on these elderly folk with a caption for one of the pictures – ‘Stories enriched in every wrinkle’.

Shiju seems to be fond of taking a frame within a frame. In Dorze, Ethiopia, the photographer has clicked a picture of a grandfather and his grand daughter looking out of a box-shaped window. In another frame which was taken in Kathmandu, Nepal, a child is clicked looking out of the window. One of the pictures in this series that makes you stop to take a second look is perhaps one that shows a young woman looking out of a window of her brick house. The picture captioned ‘Beyond the window’, has one wondering if her eyes are fixed on a particular spot or if she is looking unseeingly as her thoughts wander.

Some of his frames makes the viewer reflect and introspect. The life of a nomad is captured well in a photograph of a man all bundled up from the cold. He is seated on a stairway with a dog to keep him company.

That nature too has to fight for survival is portrayed in a picture of a creeper climbing up a wall. A picture titled ‘Missing’ sends a shiver through the bones as you stare at a picture of a doll’s head lying on a barren, dry land. The hidden message of how girls go missing everyday is clear.

A frame that makes viewers pause to take a second look is that of a shoal of fish. While the fish are swimming in one direction, one fish longs to be different – he breaks free from the school and swims in another direction.

“I wanted to become a photographer after watching a documentary on war photography. I got my first camera in 2005 and have been clicking photographs since,” says Shiju, who hails from Kayamkulam. While, at first, Shiju would click anything that caught his fancy, he soon started focussing on topics. “I did a series called ‘Life in trash’ on the garbage collectors in the Middle East. The collection appeared in a photo journal in the United States.”

Ask him which is his personal favourite among the 100 photographs displayed as part of the exhibition at YMCA Hall, and Shiju points to a picture of eyes peeping out through a gap in the walls of a house.

‘Unscripted Lives’ concludes today.