Art

Tracking street lights through a photo series

When the lights go out: Freelance photographer Bharath Rajagopalan tracks street lights through a photo series shot in and around Besant Nagar over three years

Bharath Rajagopalan was driving down Adyar Bridge one night after watching a movie. It was almost midnight and roads were deserted. He drove past buildings closed shut, the occasional vehicle, street lamps... when suddenly, he saw something striking: a street was divided into two by light.

“On one side of the street, were sodium vapour lamps, and on the other, were LED lamps that they were being replaced with,” recalls the 44-year-old, adding, “The contrast was striking.” This was the spark for a photo series for the freelance writer and photographer.

Over the next three years, he documented Chennai’s streetlights at night. He observed how the replacement of the sodium vapour lamps with LED ones, changed the moods of the street.

“Sodium vapour lamps have a golden glow about them,” says Bharath. “For people aged 30 and above who have grown up in Chennai, these lamps signify nostalgia, and stand for everything Chennai... like a good cup of filter coffee and bajji,” he adds.

Tracking street lights through a photo series

Bharath feels that with the city changing rapidly, the mellow orbs of gold, that seem like living, breathing creatures, “might get lost in the transition”. While LED lights have edged out sodium vapour lamps in most parts of the city, Bharath says that the latter continue to exist in “certain pockets”.

There is plenty of difference between lanes lit by these two lights. “LED casts a white light that simply exposes it all, while sodium vapour makes everything look smooth, hiding the scars; the shadows it creates lend a certain mood,” he explains, adding: “Imagine a hospital room and an elegant hotel room. The former looks clean and practical, but the latter is where you want to spend time in.”

Tracking street lights through a photo series

The lamps, with their long posts, stand in solitude. Bharath also wanted to capture “the face behind the light”. As part of his series, he has also done “portraits” of the lamps to capture their “personality”. He explains: “I wanted to see what exactly the light was... its origin. Hence, I shot them at eye level.”

Bharath’s series has an eeriness about it. The orange glow, the shadows, and the dark shapes around seem sinister, as though they are the opening shots of an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Tracking street lights through a photo series

But for Bharath, the scariest of his photos is that of an LED light shining over a garbage can. “There is garbage spilling from it and more strewn carelessly about,” he says. “This is what is scary. That people do not care about keeping our city clean.”

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 1:54:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/when-the-lights-go-out/article30320248.ece

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