Lights and reflections

At the Dasara celebrations of the 300-year-old Mutharamman Temple, Kulasekarapattinam  

“Il n'y a rien dans ce monde qui n'ait un moment decisive,”said the 17th Century Cardinal de Rez: “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.”

Three centuries later, his words inspired the artistic creed of Henri Cartier-Bresson — one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century and widely considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. Now in 2011, Cartier-Bresson's doctrine in turn inspires self-taught Chennai photographer Nathan G., whose work is dedicated to finding these ‘decisive moments' and immortalising them in the still frame of a photograph.

“Photography is not like painting,” Cartier-Bresson said in 1957, “there is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.” Nathan goes one step further, and contrasts the fleeting moments captured through photography to the protraction of moments through film: “the still photo is much more complex than cinematography; you have a moment — just a moment — to get it right.”

Basing a career on not just finding but also capturing crucial and fleeting moments would seem a risky business for anyone, let alone Nathan, who abandoned his initial forays into mechanical and then software engineering to reach for his camera and make his “passion a profession”. However, after six self-taught years, Nathan is now a freelance photojournalist for the reputed European Pressphoto Agency — an international agency employing a global network of over 400 professional photographers who cover current and cultural events around the world.

The larger picture

A large portion of Nathan's work is dedicated to photojournalism, and his photographs have been used by a variety of international publications, including The Guardian and The New York Times — a picture from his coverage of the recent Chitheri train accident even being used in TIME magazine's ‘best pictures of the week' and the NYTimes' ‘pictures of the day'.

Photojournalism is often associated with the need for objectivity and a sense of belonging to a larger context — pictures are often taken for the purpose of supplementing written news stories; they're meant to be informative first, artistic second. Although Nathan's work sometimes asks him to lean towards the more journalistic side of the profession, his real interest lies in finding opportunities to combine his aesthetic vision with the documental bent of his camera — and when the two intersect, they often result in images of strikingly beautiful social realism.

His coverage of the Chitheri accident illustrates this presence of both the artist and the journalist in his work. Nathan, the objective photojournalist takes pictures of the overturned train, the wreckage and the huddled crowd from a distant angle — an angle that mirrors the objectivity of the picture itself. The main ‘event' of the accident is encapsulated within the shot and provides a brisk visual overview.

A disciple of Cartier-Bresson, he however, insists on pressing closer to the heart of the tragedy. Detailing the same incident, he takes an entirely different picture: a close-up of a woman's face; her eyes half- closed, her hair dishevelled, her lips parted in grief and oblivious to an outstretched hand reaching out to comfort her — only the shadow of which is caught in the frame. What makes this popular picture so moving isn't just its unflinching proximity — the shot that brings you face to face with such an intimate display of grief — but it also lies in the quiet parallel that Nathan seems to be drawing between the depiction of human tragedy in art and the responses that such art elicits.

Despite the richness and profundity of Nathan's work his pictures are, like him, gentle and unassuming. The persistent muzzle of his camera revels in seeking ways in which to represent the emotional essence of the scenes it records; it is concerned with capturing spontaneity and it shies away from the contrived. Nathan's work is emotive before it is descriptive, and whilst delighting in the colour and vibrancy of India's cultural idiosyncrasies it is still his human subjects who guide the gaze of his lens. For anyone glancing through his portfolio, it's plain to see that Nathan doesn't just take pictures with people in them; he takes people with pictures around them.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 3:53:57 PM |

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