Step behind Janardhan Korremulla’s camera to see images of the Kumbh Mela transform into pieces of art

Janardhan Korremulla travelled to Haridwar two years, capturing moods, moments, people and the energy of the Kumbh Mela. The Mela has, with time, become a must-visit for both professional and amateur photographers. Despite the innumerable photography workshops with its focus on Kumbh, photographers never seem to tire of training their lenses on the Mela.

With his group of friends, Janardhan was also at the Kumbh Mela, documenting the ‘Ganga aarti’ and soaking in the uplifting energy of the event. The advantage of shooting from a high vantage point made him notice the play of light on the water.

The twilight hour guaranteed great photographs and videos, but there was something about the water that made him stay on, much after the devotees had left. He trained his focused eye on the water around 9-9.30p.m. and observed the patterns created by the changing lights. “The energy from people, the force with which the water flows and the dance of light have to be experienced,” he says, as he shows us the photographs that are now part of ‘Energy in motion – water’ exhibition at Goethe Zentrum.

Janardhan extended his stay in Haridwar by three days and went back to the water each night. “I was capturing both water and the light bouncing off it. I wanted to photograph the flow of water and yet arrest it for the right duration thereby showing the activity on the surface. The ‘aarti’ area is lit up in colourful lights and that created magic on the water surface. I used to look into the lens for a long time and the moment I felt there was something worth capturing, I would click,” he explains.

The images captured by Janardhan have a surreal, painting-like quality to them as colours merge to create tonal gradations that added to the beauty of the images. The artistic quality of images is a result of his work that spans three decades. He pins it down to understanding the basics of photography — shutter speed, aperture and ISO — and having a fair knowledge of post processing the images. “Many masters of photography believed that capturing an image was only 50 per cent of the job and the rest of it happened in the dark room, which many photographers don’t give importance to. The dark room is where one controlled the tonal values. Now, in digital age, one has to post process images irrespective of which software is put to use. Post processing can make a good picture better, a better image fine and a fine image a piece of art,” he asserts. Janardhan sights the example of Ansal Adams who believed in capturing images based on his post-processing technique. “I learnt by observing the work of several masters,” he says, also mentioning Henri Cartier-Bresson’s travel and street photography using a single camera and a normal lens.

Janardhan’s commercial body of work is largely industrial and advertising photography. He’s also extensively documented dance and theatre in Hyderabad, since the early 80s. “I studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry in graduation and used to be good in these subjects, particularly the chapter on light. Even today, I tell aspiring photographers to get a basic knowledge of physics. Photography is putting your knowledge of physics, mathematics and chemistry to use within a split second to capture the right image,” he says. Janardhan went on to enrol in an engineering course, only to realise his passion was photography.

Financial constraints came in the way of pursuing a full-fledged course in photography, then available only in JJ College of Arts, Mumbai. He remembers his first assignment, to cover a high-profile wedding. “I had just returned after purchasing a video camera and a VCR from Chennai and had to shoot within a couple of hours,” he smiles. One of his first few assignments fetched him Rs. 500, a princely sum in the early 80s.

Unlike now when photography courses are aplenty offline and online, he recalls having to rely on foreign publications available at India Book House for a few dollars or International Return Coupons (IRC). “If we booked a magazine, it would reach us six weeks later.”

As he moved into industrial and product photography, he learnt by observing masters like the late Wilas Bhende. “I had attended a workshop held to celebrate 25 years of his Sinar equipment. He was the first to procure the camera in India and was instrumental in having the only Sinar diploma course in the country. Inspired by him, I wanted to buy a Sinar,” he says. This called for investment to the tune of Rs. 25-26 lakh. Janardhan found himself working and saving for over 10 years before he could realise his dream. “I was the first to get a Sinar digital in Andhra Pradesh,” he beams.

Looking back, Janardhan is glad his parents let him pursue his passion and feels youngsters should be allowed to have a ‘plan B’ instead of solely focusing on academics.

Artistry behind the lens

Janardhan is widely known in the performing arts and theatre circle in the city, especially among dancers like Ananda Shankar, Rajeswari Sainath, Mangala Bhatt and Sobha Naidu. He closely worked with them, capturing their every move for years at events held in Ravindra Bharati and those hosted by South Indian Cultural Association (SICA), Kalasagaram and others. “I photographed theatre and dance for passion, and it was an expensive thing to do in the 80s. From buying a film to printing the images, I would incur an expenditure of Rs. 400 to 1000 for a day,” he shares. His images of dance, besides capturing expressions and postures, are about waiting for the right moment to capture the dancer’s body language and moments that others would miss.