Life beyond the lens

K.R. Sunil finds extraordinary stories in ordinary people. It may be just a face that he captures, but it is the life beyond it that he sees. Photography for Sunil is more of a means to reach people. If it is a crowd he wants to capture, he walks into it, becomes one among the people and only then pulls out his camera. If it is an individual, he strikes a conversation with him/her and clicks when the subject is least conscious of his presence. “To get a good shot, you should be one of them; for that you should be the kind that loves humanity,” says Sunil. “I don’t usually carry or wear fancy photography gear, because that would separate me from them,” he adds.

Sunil is one among the four winners of the Habitat Photosphere Award instituted by The India Habitat Centre as part of its year-long photo festival. He was selected from among hundreds of entries from all over the country for his series on ponds in and around his home-town, Kodungalloor. “I chose to document these fast-disappearing water bodies not for their beauty, but for their connection to human lives. Until a few decades ago, entire communities depended on water from these ponds, to drink, bathe and for household chores. Our lives were inextricably linked to the ponds in and around our homes,” he says. Today, many have been filled in to house apartments; others have been ruthlessly converted to garbage dumps. Saddened by their slow death, Sunil embarked on a mission to photograph them. “Though many have gone away, we still have a few that need to be preserved. The biodiversity in a pond is fascinating. If you care to look, there is no “exotic” picture that you wouldn’t find in your own backyard.”

That said, Sunil has travelled extensively within India. Usually accompanied by a friend, these journeys are almost always by public transport. Of all the places he has been to including the picturesque apple orchards of Kashmir to the desserts of Rajasthan, Kolkata holds a special spot in his heart. “The city still nurtures the past within it,” he says.

A student of fine art (Sunil studied sculpture from Fine Arts College, Thrissur), Sunil discovered photography accidentally. He thanks his association with photographer and friend Krishna Kumar for introducing him to the world of pictures. Even as he painted and sculpted, Sunil spent hours in libraries marvelling at the photographs in dusty volumes of The National Geographic. “The magazine was my Bible. I knew I had to be a photographer. I haven’t learned it technically (I don’t think that is essential either), but I began to observe and experiment.”

Over the past 10 years, Sunil has showcased his works in group and solo exhibitions. The Kodungalloor Bharani series is one of his most noted. He has been to the festival almost every year and captured intense frames. Even in the crowd, there were faces that Sunil sought out. “For a few years now, Raman the usual oracle has been missing. I went in search of him.” After a lot of looking around and talking to people, Sunil found him in his small house. He had been ill and his family was going through troubled times. “That is another long story, which I’m not getting into now.” So what does he do with all the stories? “They might find their way into a book, perhaps,” he says. Sunil is a writer, too. He has assisted Rajeev Ravi in a few films as well. He does relief for a living.

Sunil has a fan following on FB, but he says he is irked whenever someone asks him what camera he uses. “As far as I am concerned, the camera is just an instrument. It is not important. It is the photographer’s perception that matters. A good photo is what the photographer sees.” Appreciation too sometimes disappoints him. “In the sense that when someone says my photograph looks like a painting, I don’t take it as a compliment. It is the pain on the face of the subject that I intend to show.” He has shot the jallikattu over a period of time and the transgender festival at Koovagam in Viluppuram is something he goes back to shoot every year.

Sunil’s works for the Habitat Photosphere will be published in a book titled Panchatattava. The award (Rs. 2 lakh) will be used to create a body of work on disappearing water bodies.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 3:36:16 AM |

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