Life & Style

The BIG PICTURE

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A museum of photography, PhotoMuse, in Kodakara, uses the medium to touch art, nature and humanity

A photograph is worth more than a 1000 words. What then will be the worth of a collection of more than 1000 photographs? What if some of these images are from the time when photography was born, in the 1830s? What will these chemically developed images, in daguerreotype or tin plates mean to us? What richness then will photography related apparatus, from inception till date, hold? Without doubt such corpus is priceless.

PhotoMuse the country’s first museum dedicated solely to photography, at Kodakara, Thrissur district, is not just a repository of photography equipment and its history but also a dynamic centre that uses the medium to “collect, preserve and interpret the history, science and the art of photography.”

Dynamic space

Its location, in rural hinterland, is not direct; its rented premises, a modern, white house, not photogenic. And yet the interested, the keen, the followers, the converts and the curious converge here to take forward the aims of its creators.

Founded three years ago, in April 2014, the initiative began small, by a group of passionate photographers led by Dr Unni Pulikkal S, currently Museum Director.

A paediatrician by profession and a photographer at heart he says, “Photography for us is a tool to instil in people the love for art, care for nature and respect for humanity. PhotoMuse cannot remain a place for dead objects, instead, it is a dynamic space for cultural and natural conservancy.”

Neatly labelled and displayed in humidity-controlled rooms are rare photographs, original prints, obsolete vintage cameras, dowdy box flashes, rare album with prints from the time of the American Civil War, camera equipment used by N Madhavan Pillai, a famous lensman, an enlarger from the film era, a large format camera retrieved from the debris of a burnt down studio, Tin Type and daguerreotype prints. To the visitor this rare and rich inventory is a treat.

Another rare gem is a collection of 60 to 70 prints that belong to the late 19th and early 20th century, stereographs displayed annually in an exhibition on the history of the medium.

The contemporary exhibition showcases different genres of modern photography, works of its over 12,000 members, its annual event ‘Open Origins, Open Ends’ becoming a landmark event in the State. Works of international artists are displayed in the International Masters Series , a famous one being ‘Gradation’ that showcased Platinum Prints by American photographer Herbert Ascherman. The monthly screening of short films and documentaries connected to art, history and culture under Motion Pictures Exhibition and the Project Image Exhibition, a curated display of photographs sent in by its members, which are projected and not printed, are some of their other outreach methods.

Periodic hosting of nature workshops, Nature being one of the most celebrated subjects of photographs, is another successful interactive method to disseminate the tenets of photography. Sixty such workshops, so far, have enabled youngsters explore forests and brought them up-close with the beauty and realities of nature.

PhotoMuse has to its credit the preservation of the cultural history of tribes and local communities. Nandakumar Moodadi, Academic Director, explains: “ The history of photography of a country is the history of the country itself. Because there is no other art form which is as much connected with the people, politics, the landscape and the culture of a country as photography.”

This aspect also includes social documentaries on city life, a recent one being a documentary on Kodungalloor.

Visual culture

In the three years of its quiet existence PhotoMuse’s FB page has managed to garner a network of followers quite beyond its small physical presence. “The response has been overwhelming,” says Unni disclosing that what began as a group of 10 has grown to be over 10,000.

“All the collections in PhotoMuse come from donors. It’s our responsibility to make it grow into the home of photography in India,” says Deepa Alex, coordinator of the Ernakulam Chapter.

One of the main challenges they face, Unni says, is raising funds. But he is confident of peoples’ power and passion towards initiatives like this.

And it looks like people are reaching out to them. At an international exhibition in collaboration with Industry and Film Museum at Wolfen in Germany, in 2016, PhotoMuse celebrated the beauty of the Western Ghats in faraway Germany. The exhibition that ran for a month drew an overwhelming response.

Among the fraternity, closer home, the initiative caused elation. For wildlife photographer Seema Suresh, PhotoMuse is a “dream come true” and for Pradeep Menon, Director Programmes, working for the museum is the same as working with his own history - personal, social and cultural.

Unni sums up the big picture: “We believe if art is for art alone, its existence is half way through. To make it complete art should benefit people, to make themselves better - emotionally, financially and socially.”

Thus PhotoMuse gets everyone in its frame.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 9:03:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/photomuse-a-museum-of-photography-in-kerala/article19698328.ece

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