The simple truth

A photographer’s journey to find natural six-packs

When C.P. Satyajit invited his coconut tree climber, who was his first photographic subject, to the opening of his show, Murugesan readily agreed. Then, he had a question. “I will come, of course. But how many trees do I have to climb?”

In a world besotted with complexities, C.P. Satyajit’s photographs stand out for their unassuming simplicity. Images of people engaged in common chores and humble occupations beckon from the walls of Lakshana Art Gallery, where his show occupies a special place in the Chennai Photo Biennale. There are no special visual effects and no use of Photoshop to blur, mask or correct. Fundamentally, with this series, Satyajit has veered away from any kind of manipulation of the photographic image. For photo-buffs interested in realistic outdoor photography with fine technical details, this exhibition brings a fresh outlook.

‘Heavenly Bodies’ began with Satyajit’s admiration for healthy bodies, like his family coconut tree climber’s agility and the well-toned body of a housekeeper. “Why not document people who are naturally fit?” With this mission in mind, Satyajit set out with a small team of two, in search of such people in their home surroundings. A boatman steers a coracle against a backdrop of rocks. A woman stands holding a scythe surrounded by prolific lantana with the blue haze of hills in the background. A worker at the Marakkanam salt pans carries a basket of pristine white salt. You can almost see the crystals of salt, and you want to reach out and stroke the folds of her sari.

Photographer V. Karthik, who has written the curatorial note, calls it a clear documentary style, rarely practised these says. He observes, “More than us looking at the person, it feels as if the person in the picture is looking at us.”

Learning dance since childhood and performing till the age of 23, Satyajit’s turn to advertising photography was a marked shift in his choice of career. An accomplished professional, he is especially known for his controlled photography of automobiles. Yet, with this series, one is tempted to compare his love for dance and photography to the rigour of practice in both professions coming together. When it comes to dance, one trains the body and mind to respond to rhythms and contortions. With photography however, it the eye and mind that are trained to respond to a moment.

Satyajit did not want to land up at a locale in Male Mahadeshwara hills and find it was dusk, so he could not get his shot. Therefore, he made it a point to go equipped with a pack of lights and batteries. Also, he wanted pictures with a lot of detail, which make you feel like you are at the location yourself. Most of the pictures are shot with a Linhof Phase One, using a medium format back on this large format camera. Satyajit confesses he is not trigger-happy and shoots judiciously. Recalling the intimacy of the time spent with his subjects, he says, “If I stayed any longer, I felt I would start manipulating. I wanted to accept what was given to me, without attempting to make it look better.”

He is less concerned about impressing an audience with this set of pictures. He feels such intent could take away the bare essence of the moment he wanted to capture. “I wanted to show what is out there and how I felt when I took these photographs. Communication has to travel beyond the visual, oral or written form. The unsaid message is most powerful.”

In a way, these pictures are simply like a drink of clear, cool coconut water. I walk out feeling supremely refreshed, at peace with the world, and deeply connected with the earth and our people.

The show is on till March 13 at Lakshana Art Gallery, No. 5/13, 1st Street, Abhiramapuram. For more details, contact 24987794/95.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 5:45:19 PM |

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