Society

News from inside the newsroom

Photographer Noel Bowler has been shooting work spaces for years, and has now turned his lens towards newsrooms

At the age of 39, Noel Bowler travelled to India for the first time, and landed directly in Chennai. “I’m only here for four days, and then I’m going back to London,” he says, summarising his visit in three words, “It’s been hot.”

Bowler was in Chennai for a very specific reason: photographing the newsroom of an old newspaper. His current project has taken him to 10 newspapers in as many countries so far, and Chennai is one of his many stops around the globe. But even within this short span of visit, the city has made its mark.

“I’ve spent many years travelling, and I find that I get surprised very little these days. But the one thing that strikes me about Chennai is the traffic and the roads. I haven’t seen anything like it: it’s mayhem, but it seems like organised mayhem,” describes the London-based Irishman.

Having observed multiple newsrooms, and journalists on the job in different cultures, Bowler finds strands of similarity everywhere. After all, he says, working professionals in any country belong to a narrow demographic.

“This reminds me of the last time I was photographing in the US. The temperature was just as high, and the same people go to work in the same feeling of air conditioning. Where I’m from, we don’t have any need for it.”

“But the people here are very, very friendly, which I’m surprised at because usually in cities so big, people tend to keep to themselves,” he adds. That isn’t the only thing that set India apart for Bowler: he had certain ideas about the country even before he first set foot on Indian soil.

“I’m not from England originally. I’m from Ireland, so I have this feeling of shared history. We were both occupied by the British.” He doesn’t see the reflections of this history in Chennai’s everyday work environment, but, as he points out, it isn’t visible on the surface in Ireland either. “It’s when you talk to somebody, and when you get to know them a little bit more, that you share these ideas,” he explains. And then came his visit to Fort St George, which brought this shared past home with that much more force.

“I think there’s an influence that a building brings to its people, whether you’re aware of it or not. I think this building has history, and character: there’s a sense of that in the people here, a sense of pride in belonging. Some of the oldest newspapers in the world now have buildings that are brand new: they all look almost identical. The lightings are all even, everything is automatic...” he sounds almost rueful.

The food was another aspect that took him by surprise. Though he didn’t have a chance to sample his favourite jalfrezi here, he tasted plenty of other things, and has quite a bit to say about it: “It seems more fresh and healthy. When you find Indian food in England, there seems to be more additives to the sauce.”

His old film camera is often met with “bafflement and confusion”, even by photojournalists. “I thought in a newspaper, that would be less the case, but it absolutely isn’t. What’s interesting, for me, is how people perceive what a photograph can tell you.”

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 1:17:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/news-from-inside-the-newsroom/article24151105.ece

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