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Still in love with life

T.S. Satyan's photographs capture life with great empathy. His photographs have found a place in the most prestigious journals and magazines of the world. Nothing is too trivial for this veteran who has brought out a collection of his works.

T.S.Satyan: Telling stories through images. -- Photo: T.L. Prabhakar.

T.S. SATYAN'S photographs do not need captions. Words seem redundant when the pictures draw you in with ease and have your mind swirling with emotions. The joy of childhood, the pain of hunger, the agony of separation, the thrill of celebration, the warmth of having a pet, the beauty of young Brahmin boys chanting shlokas are all facets of life that have been captured lovingly by the grand old man of photography. He was in the City recently to launch his coffee table book, In Love With Life.

"This is a book about everyday people, some of whom live in comfort, most of whom struggle to survive, all of whom seem to leap out of the printed page to touch the viewer with their stories," says Jayadev of Simova Educationand Research, publishers of the book. "In Love With Life allows us poignant glimpses of the Shri Saamaanya, or common man, making this seamless journey through life — coming into this world, moving through childhood, learning the skills to earn a livelihood, getting married, shouldering the responsibilities of parenthood, enjoying youth, accepting its loss and coming to terms with the inevitability of death. It is a story in photographs, sensitively told," he says in the Publisher's Note.

T.S. Satyan's book, In Love with Life.

A long time ago, a young boy used to look into any magazine he could lay his hands on and gaze hungrily at the pictures. He wondered why he should not see his byline next to a photograph in classy magazines. "My father, a respected doctor, was aghast that his eldest son should jump into a non-existent field, but I wanted to be a photojournalist, nothing else," says the man, whose name is immediately recognisable in photojournalism. The young Satyan borrowed a box camera and took his first pictures that were published in the college magazine. He bought a Reflex camera with the loan he got from his English Professor, Eagleton, while studying for his BA at Mysore's Maharaja College.

The dedicated and methodical photographer went on to work on assignment for prestigious magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Bunte Illustierte, The Illustrated Weekly of India, and London News. He also contributed as a feature writer to many magazines, including Christian Science Monitor. His features have been released through the celebrated Black Star Publishing Company, New York. He also worked from Delhi for Life magazine for 32 years, covering many significant events and notable personalities in India and the neighbouring countries. "I've seen so many great people through my lenses, but I still find the greatest joy in the faces of the people on the street," admits the photographer.

This veteran, who was awarded the Padmashri in 1977, has carried out many photographic assignments for prestigious organisations like the Smithsonian Institution, Ford Foundation, and the United Nations and its allied agencies, especially the UNICEF.

One of his greatest achievements must be the UNICEF-sponsored solo exhibition, Little People, held for an entire month at the United Nations Assembly Hall annexe in 1979 to commemorate the International Year of the Child. "I don't know if any other photographer in the world has had this honour," says the man who has captured the myriad expressions of childhood.

Satyan's childhood itself was a pleasant phase. He remembers his ride to school in a victoria, a horse-drawn carriage, along with his long-time friend, filmmaker M.S. Sathyu. His contemporaries were H.Y. Sharada Prasad, former adviser to the prime minister, Veena Doreswamy Iyengar, cartoonist R.K. Laxman, and economist P.R. Brahmananda.

An excellent, sepia-tinted photograph of his dear friend and guide R.K. Narayan keeping wickets for his young nephews finds a place on the cover of Ramachandra Guha's recent book, A Corner of a Foreign Field.

"I am a learner, and I learn all the time. I have a wide circle of valuable friends. More than knowing me as an excellent photojournalist, I would like them to know me as a decent human being," says the man who has seen so much pain and sorrow that comes with war.

"After the Bangladesh war, I went to record the plight of refugees, the helplessness of old people and children, and was pained to see how war can splinter the world so drastically. Often, art can unite these splintered pieces and help make a harmonious world."

So it is fitting that the art of photography in the book In Love With Life has been used to kindle our finer sensitivities. Says Mr. Jayadeva: "As an organisation dedicated to non-conventional, distance education, we felt Satyan's photographs have an enriching quality that has a sobering and salutary effect on readers even as they educate them."

The veteran photojournalist, who is also a Rajyotsava Award winner, is proud of his three children (though none have taken up his passion for the camera) and his brother T.S. Nagarajan, a well-known photographer himself. Satyan's publications include Exploring Karnataka, Vignettes of Germany and Hampi, a document on the fabled capital of the erstwhile Vijayanagar Empire. In Mysore's relaxed atmosphere, he expected to retire and relax with his family.

Instead, he finds himself busy concentrating his attention on writing his reminiscences. "By the time I'm 80 later this year, I hope to have brought out my autobiography," says this indefatigable man.


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