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For the shutterbugs

A leaping black buck. Photo: Special arrangement  

If you are planning to take up photography as a serious hobby, make a call to the 1857-born Photographic Society of Madras (PSM) before buying an SLR camera online. As a member of this historic club, you will be in that perfect place: not a pro, not an amateur, but a serious hobbyist while doing a day job to support it.

What kept the society going for more than 150 years, I asked the top office-bearers. “It came into being at a historic time, when the Rani of Jhansi was battling the British,” they said. PSM was founded by Alexander Hunter and Walter Elliot just a few years after the first-ever photograph was taken. News of its formation was recorded by the Madras Literary Society. The stated idea was to bring together photographers of all hues and give them opportunities to learn, swap ideas, and have fun, travelling and exploring.

Captain Linnaeus Tripe (1822–1902) was commissioned by the Madras Presidency to record South Indian temples in the 1860s. PSM was used by the British for mapping areas and shooting monuments, people, kings, queens and temples. Getting photographed became a status symbol; land apparently was bartered for pictures. Hunter organised National Salons, which in 2014 were enlarged into PSM International Digital exhibitions. Photography was expensive but the society drew active membership and became popular. It went into decline at the onset of World War I, but A. Arunachalam, a young photo-enthusiast re-registered it as the Madras Amateur Photographic Society on October 26, 1932 with Howard Oakley as patron. Eventually, it got back its name.

PSM had its ups and downs, went into limbo, forcing fans to meet at homes on Radhakrishnan Salai. In 2008, supporters got together, read journals published in the past, and under K.O. Isaac's leadership shaped its present format. What happened to Tripe's photographs? “Most of them are at the Victoria and Albert Museum,” said Isaac in an interview. “We are taking measures to retrieve them.” A postman, passionate about photography, he “had a car shed converted into a developing room, where he stored his photographs. But a flood washed away everything. We've lost valuable documentation.”

Surgeons, industrialists, students and art critics make up PSM's 500 members, from Namgyal in Leh to Jaivinder in Bharatpur. Also on the roster are Rajeev Menon, Alphonse Roy, Sharad Haksar, G. Venket Ram and TNA Perumal from the film/advertising industry. Once you are in (for a small fee), you take part in the monthly intra-society competitions and the national salon, consult members on the nuances of the art, and learn to look, shoot, edit, and repeat. “We take part in international competitions, we're evangelists for photography.”

Once camera bags are off shoulders, PSM can easily morph into a Raconteurs Club. Every member has a story of how he/she became a PSM member. In 1986, Ramana was a member of his college Photography Club, where his pictures were exhibited. A PSM representative, who was at the exhibition, invited him to become a member. “It's 30 years now. I'm one of the oldest members.” Rithwik met former President Isaac in 2005, at Vedanthangal, and exchanged cards with him. “PSM gave me the kick to take photography seriously. I started winning awards, and gained expertise.” As a corporate communicator, Thomas Abraham was buying pictures for his table-top books/brochures; the photographs, though technically brilliant, weren't artistically half-good. After retirement, “I took up photography to match my words with visuals in my travelogues. I've lost the fear of uploading on Flikr.” Every month, on the third Saturday, photographers arrive for lec-dems. Raviprakash, BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014, was the guest for January 2015.

“PSM brought Chennai onto the photographic competition map by conducting the first International Digital Salon. We received 1600 entries from 22 countries. Thanks to Sanjay Sridhar, our catalogue turned out to be the best in the world.”

A student-in-Chennai campaign brought in many entries. Just after becoming a member, a student got short-listed in the Tamron Photographic contest for South India. “Members have chucked day jobs to be full-timers and support themselves through photography — as equipment rentals, allied businesses and on TV channels. Rahul Vallamber teaches fashion photography.”

So, join PSM, find your camera-worthy moment!

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 4:32:53 PM |

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