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Meet Madhavan Palanisamy who shot the Indian Army’s ad campaign

The brave and the beautiful Pictures from the Indian Army Project and (far left) Appa and Other Animals. (Below) Madhavan Palanisamy Madhavan Palanisamy and Ramesh Kumar

The brave and the beautiful Pictures from the Indian Army Project and (far left) Appa and Other Animals. (Below) Madhavan Palanisamy Madhavan Palanisamy and Ramesh Kumar   | Photo Credit: Madhavan Palanisamy

The photographer, winner of the LensCulture B&W Series 2019, relives his most stunning shots

Jazz music suffuses like steam through the cafe. Time slows down in the room with chinoiserie wallpaper and sepia photographs from a century ago. With his sage-like beard and calm, Madhavan Palanisamy seems to belong more to such a time than to today, where he has carved a name for himself as an award-winning photographer and filmmaker.

Meet Madhavan Palanisamy who shot the Indian Army’s ad campaign
 

 

Coimbatore-born and raised Madhavan, 44, recently, won LensCulture’s B&W Series award for his work ‘Appa and Other Animals’. “Amsterdam-based LensCulture is an authority in contemporary photography. Chosen among entries from 126 countries, mine had nine pictures that celebrate the time spent with my father, famous writer and literary critic Kovai Gnani,” says Madhavan. “He had been unwell and, on my visit home, in between discussing his work, Carl Jung and spirituality, I would go on long walks shooting pictures of abandoned horses and stray dogs with my Contax, the ‘Lamborghini of cameras’. I juxtaposed these pictures with those of my father for the series.”

 

Madhavan’s work that choreographs portraiture and documentary aims to create an empathetic link between viewer and subject and is a spillover from an eclectic childhood.

“My father lost his vision to diabetes when he was 45, but he considered that a gift, going on to write many books. Even earlier, our home was filled with Marxist thinkers and discussions on the subaltern. As children, we watched the films of Charlie Chaplin, Bergman, Fellini, Godard and Ray. They became my creative force pushing me to approach my work with flamboyance and gut.”

 

Madhavan followed the beaten path of graduating in the sciences to find his art. “I loved science but my degree in Biochemistry didn’t sync with me. I followed it up with an MBA, participating along the way in ad-zap and story writing contests. I was drawn to advertising visuals of the 1990s, especially the work of Prabuddha Dasgupta. The era’s play of light and shade, the candid approach to telling a story, so different from western visuals resonated with me,” says Madhavan.

An image from 'Appa and other animals' series that won LensCulture Award.

An image from 'Appa and other animals' series that won LensCulture Award.   | Photo Credit: Madhavan Palanisamy

 

“I used to shoot pictures as a child with a Zenith. For portraits, the Minolta with a 135mm lens was my go-to camera. But when I joined the advertising world it was for servicing. JWT, where I worked, held space for experimentation and exploration, short film and photography, and that is where I learnt to prefer ambient light despite the studio set-up.”

 

Madhavan moved on to work with Bharath Ramamrutham at Graf (“where I learnt a different language of photography”), set up Magicbus Studio with Radha Rathi and shot a conceptual series that “was sweet and innocent but not strong enough. Every two years, I shed my skin and did a round of photography on celebrities, portraiture, sustainable fashion and human stories. My language and intent changed and I returned to JWT as creative director.”

Indian Army Project

Indian Army Project   | Photo Credit: Madhavan Palanisamy

A couple of exhibitions followed, but it was in search of the intensely personal that led Madhavan to strike out on his own. It was then that Grey India offered him the ambitious Indian Army project. The commissioned advertising campaign featured the Army as ‘India’s most exciting workplace’.

For 40 days, Madhavan traversed the country filming officers of the Indian Army in their places of work — Siachen, where snow falls in thick flurries; the rocky defiles of Ladakh; the densely forested training grounds of the Special Forces; the passing-out parades at National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, and Indian Military Academy, Dehradun; and the children of the Army Public School, Mhow.

Indian Army Project

Indian Army Project   | Photo Credit: Madhavan Palanisamy

“Portraying non-models and showing their vulnerability and power was my strength, and shooting with people who lived the experience helped me put it together well. It is the most amazing project that I have done. The brief was to showcase that there are avenues aplenty for techies, engineers and doctors in the Forces. Shooting in Siachen without acclimatisation was the toughest,” says Madhavan, “but it was surreal.”

Indian Army Project

Indian Army Project   | Photo Credit: Madhavan Palanisamy

 

 

The images are hallucinatory — blazing tank guns, soldiers with war paint-streaked faces and hardy resolves standing by bunkers, and laser light from a weapon caught in a flashbulb’s glare. This was followed by grand pictures of the Indian Navy’s International Fleet Review.

Over the past year, Madhavan has shot romantic love through the lives of same-sex couples, magically lit portraits of the people of Malnad and a special one on time spent in Shimla with his son where he came across a museum with wax statues.

Madhavan’s work is compellingly personal but resonates with the viewer, a reflection of his favourite quote from The Gospel of Thomas — If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 12:59:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/indian-army-ad-campaign-photographer-wins-award/article30605913.ece

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