The faces of strength

Photographer CP Satyajit captures the physical power that comes with a labour-intensive way of life

Updated - February 24, 2019 02:17 pm IST

Published - January 28, 2019 05:27 pm IST

At the rim of a well, stands a woman, heaving and pulling a heavy metal bucket brimming with water. Her rippling arm muscles, reveals how habituated she is to the act. As she heaves the bucket upward, balancing on the rim as she does, her body shows signs of strength and perseverance. On the other hand, in a picturesque background laden with small snow-white heaps of salt, is an elderly man sporting an infectious smile and a natural six-pack, equipped with an oar-like sieve used to extract salt from the fields. ‘Heavenly Bodies’ they are called, and understandably so, by CP Satyajit, the man behind this photo diary which looks at bodies accustomed to long hours of labour and the strength that comes with it. For him, documenting these people means, redefining beauty as perceived by many, through raw and natural frames devoid of artificial compositions.

Story of a well-cut body

Satyajit recalls the 65-year-old coconut tree climber, with a lean body cut with muscles, who had happened to come to his house once, and sowed the first seed of this project in his mind. “He doesn’t go to the gym or follow a protein-diet, but he is healthy and fit because of what he does. I had been observing these professions, and thought why not document them?,” says the photographer, who has long wished to break away from the advertising mould, which revolved around styling and composition.

A failed attempt with studio portraits made Satyajit realise that the environment is what makes the subjects who they are. “I was not trying to dramatise the image, I was simply trying to document it,” he continues. The first leg of the shoot was done in a location very close to the city, with fisherfolk. But as Satyajit moved further away from the city, in search of his subjects, a renewed sense of rawness uncorrupted by urban humdrum hit him. “The minute people are away from the rush of the city, they seem to have a lot more time. They are less distracted and more patient. Whereas here, people are always looking for what to do next,” he observes.

The process of the shoot itself proved refreshing for the photographer who earlier photographed automobiles. Ideally, in an advertising setup, a photographer is expected to communicate with his subject to arrive at the perfect moment. But this belief did not hold true for this project, he says.

“A lot of times, I would not direct them. I would only suggest a spot,” he says, adding that he would deliberately refrain from manipulating their body language. “After a point, they are almost bored by the camera. And, they start doing their own things to beat the boredom. That is when I feel the need to click,” says the artist.

He tried to keep himself and his camera invisible, to have as little effect on his subjects’ environment as possible. “It draws inspiration from a movie like Forrest Gump , where the technology is invisible and used contextually, without overpowering the content,” Satyajit says.

The travails

While on the way to shoot people who make jaggery in a cottage industry, Satyajit and his team were stopped by an old lady with a stick her hand, firmly demanding that they leave. She was the gatekeeper of the place and had mistaken them to be the ‘press’. “Apparently, a couple of days before that, they had a raid to find out if sugar is being mixed with the jaggery. Not that this place did, but they didn’t want any press,” he recalls.

There are also plenty of real stories that speak of the shift in the rural paradigm. “For instance, the younger generation does not want to do farming like their ancestors because they believe that it doesn’t earn them any respect. The elders rue this fact,” continues the photographer. “I spoke to the younger generation, and started asking them why they think so.” But over a few months, he says, he realised that he comes from a place of privilege and can’t question their wants.

Heavenly Bodies exhibition is underway at The Gallery, InKo Centre, RA Puram till January 30.

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