Life & Style

COVID-19: What are homebound photographers doing during the lockdown?

Vineet Vohra’s photograph taken during the lockdown

Vineet Vohra’s photograph taken during the lockdown  

Forced to stay put due to the lockdown, Indian photographers are finding new ways to capture the play of light in their households as well as in empty streets

Normally, Vineet Vohra is always on the move. Over the past 26 years, the popular Delhi-based street photographer, and founder of Art Photo Feature (APF) magazine, has travelled incessantly for his work. But, although he finds the current lockdown, to limit the spread of COVID-19, challenging, he says it is also making him more compassionate.

“I am realising how rewarding it is to have small pleasures in life such as drinking chai from a roadside dhaba,” he says, adding, “I value and respect people around me a lot more. One will always remember how someone around you made you feel during this difficult time.”

For photographers like Vohra, the current restrictions on movement are forcing them to find fresh ways to adapt their work for the new normal. Saying he initially found the first few days a good break, he adds, “then it started becoming claustrophobic in the context of photography needs.” Forced to stay home, he began exploring his living spaces. “After a week I realised everything is beautiful around me and the light falling off on certain areas in my house was simply outstanding, so I’m documenting these days,” he says. He is also documenting his family and photographing birds.

From Sreeranj Sreedhar’s ‘Lockdown Series’

From Sreeranj Sreedhar’s ‘Lockdown Series’  

Guruvayoor-based Sreeranj Sreedhar, a street/documentary photographer, and member of Indian Street Photography Collective (the In-Street Collective), had to cancel a Theyyam photo tour to North Kerala because of the travel restrictions. “I am not complaining,” he says, adding “There are pictures everywhere this is a great chance to get creative.” He is photographing at home, family and pet dog, and intends to call this the ‘Lockdown series.’

For travel and street photographers, people are crucial to capturing the character of a place. That said there is the temptation that a lockdown brings – a great photo-op, the once-in-a-lifetime kind. Like the Guruvayoor Sree Krishna temple right now. “I don’t think anybody in living history has seen the temple this empty, without devotees or the customary rush hustle and bustle. It would make for a great image,” Sreeranj says.

Unable to travel for these pictures, they are, however, resorting to creative solutions, like drones. Bengaluru-based travel photographer Hari Menon says this is an ideal time for drone photography, “Usually crowded places minus people have a very different character, the perspective will change from what we are used to,” he says.

Hari Menon’s photograph of his mother, shot at home

Hari Menon’s photograph of his mother, shot at home  

Menon, who hails from North Paravur near Kochi, returned home Bengaluru just before the lockdown. He went into a 28 day self-isolation since he lives with his 64-year old mother. “I am looking at this as a holiday, using the time to sort my photographs, do some reading, and checking out websites,” he says. He sees this as a chance to look through his earlier works, something he rarely gets time to do.

Like Mumbai-based photographer Avani Rai, “Whenever an event happens the urge is to go out and capture it. But since that is not possible now, I am going through my old pictures. Of course, I have seen these images but never truly studied them,” she says.

A self portrait by Avani Rai

A self portrait by Avani Rai  

Avani is currently trying to add more colours to these by using them to paint mixed media art. “I love painting but have never tried mixed media, so I am experimenting with that,” she adds. If not for the lockdown, she would have been clicking away at a hill station for a commissioned project, capturing its summer life. Instead, she is confined to her Mumbai home along with her parents.

Though Singapore-based entrepreneur-travel photographer Manu Ignatius has had to cancel a couple of planned trips, he is using this time to organise his photographs and work. He says, “I just got back after a two-month trip. I was in the US (California), in February visiting my sister. Before that, I was travelling in India (Bombay, Rajasthan, Punjab etc.) from end December to February. So, this break gives me a chance to organize the photos and videos. Of course, I miss going out and capturing moments. However, I take this as my opportunity to work through my pending media and revamp my personal website.”

Manu went into two-week quarantine after a colleague tested positive for COVID-19, and documented the experience in a vlog. “As a videographer, I have done similar videos in the past about my experiences for my YouTube channel, and also for my company. So, when I heard the news, it got me thinking, what could I do that is creative during this time? Hence the vlog,” he says.

Manu Ignatius’ photograph from his Singapore apartment

Manu Ignatius’ photograph from his Singapore apartment  

Staying in one place has forced him also to be more creative. “Fortunately, I live in a place with a decent view. So, I try experimenting with what I can, from my apartment. That means, trying different lenses and filters on the frame,” he explains.

Wildlife photographers are also finding ways to adapt. Aparna Purushothaman is savouring her new house, and its surroundings on the outskirts of Kottayam. “What your eyes see is always better than what a camera captures. We photographers miss that. Now I get to watch and enjoy those ‘moments’,” she says, adding that she hasn’t touched her camera all these days.

Aparna Purushothaman’s shot of view from her home

Aparna Purushothaman’s shot of view from her home  

“It is a reminder of what I am missing!” she says. She now knows that every morning a Rufous Treepie knocks on her window, sees sunbirds that visit her garden, and flocks of parrots, parakeets and pigeons feed on the grain left behind after harvest in fields.

Aneesh Sankarankutty who specialises in photographing elephants is staying home, and consoling himself with the fact that the lockdown in proving to be beneficial for wildlife. The first trip he intends to make is to the Nelliyampathy hills to see a favourite elephant. “There has never been this long a gap between my trips to Nelliyampathy all these years,” he says. Till then, he is doing research and catch up on his reading that will help with his fieldwork.

This enforced downtime is proving useful for trying new techniques. Vohra, Sreeranj and Menon are also mentoring photography students and enthusiasts, using online discussions, workshops and photography classes to reach out.

A difficult time

That said, like everyone else caught in this unexpected pandemic, photographers too struggle to be productive. Photographer KR Sunil says it is challenging to be creative at times like this. Sunil, who has shown his works at venues and events such as the Kochi Muziris Biennale (2016) and the Indian Habitat Center (Delhi) was scheduled to go to Australia on an exchange programme, now postponed. “You look at the news on the television or the newspapers...I cannot be creative at a time like this. I just couldn’t bring myself to take out my camera during the (2018 Kerala) floods,” he says. The general mood of anxiety does not permit him to.

“No photography, for now,” he says.

Keeping it fashionable

From Shafi Shakkeer’s Facetime photographs

From Shafi Shakkeer’s Facetime photographs  

Fashion photographers across the world are now using mobile phones to shoot remotely– via Facetime or video calls. Shafi Shakkeer was reportedly one of the first in Kerala to try ‘Facetime photography’. He planned and ‘shot’ from Thrissur, and of the two models - one was in Kochi and the other in Kodungallur. “This is virtual photography, the model poses and I click, in a manner of speaking. The frame is set based on what is available...sometimes we use props to accentuate the mood,” he says. This kind has only two people there is another version where a third person, at the model's location, who clicks under the photographer’s guidance. “There is nothing much really for the photographer to do,” he says.

All agree that it is safest to stay home for now, Menon draws an interesting parallel saying, “I tell my students, ‘balancing precariously on the edge of a cliff for one stunning photograph is great. But remember, you’ll get another photograph only if you are alive.’

(With inputs from Aishwarya Upadhye)

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 7:46:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/forced-to-stay-put-due-to-the-lockdown-indian-photographers-are-finding-new-ways-to-capture-the-play-of-light-in-their-households-as-well-as-in-empty-streets/article31502159.ece

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