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I turned to photography by an accidental realization. One day, during my undergraduate days in my home town, Mysore, in the south of India, I was driven by an impish desire to write a piece on the sudden death of 'Airawata', the maharaja's elephant, much loved by the people of Mysore as a dear old friend. A leading Indian weekly published the story ("A Mysore Gentleman Passes Away") with an unsatisfactory photograph of the elephant which I had bought from a local studio. A few weeks later, the editor, an Irishman, sent me a copy of the magazine with my story, along with a cheque and a note urging me to take to the camera "if I had ambitions of making a success of my career as a journalist." I took to photography without a second thought. The years that followed proved in ample measure that the editor was right. Today, several decades after the death of "Airawata", I have an elephant with a camera on its mount as my professional symbol.
I started as a freelance photographer, but did rather a long stint with the Indian government as its official photographer before I resigned in 1978 to become a freelance once again. It was my privilege as picture editor of Yojana, the journal of the Indian planning commission, to record for well over a decade, the planned economic development of the country. This enabled me to see India as is given to no man, reflecting, as my viewfinder did, the beauty and the ugliness and the colour and the potential of India, its men and women building their own future, its temples, old and new. It was then, while recording this exciting change in the life and landscape of the country, I preferred to be not a photographer of cement and steel and inaugural ceremonies, but a photographer of people.
I believe that a country is people. While photographing people, a photographer neither petrifies them, nor does he make them act. They move, they work, they laugh, and they suffer. And he himself becomes a part of their movement, their work, their laughter and their pain. He gets involved.
All art, the cynic says, is a form of escapism. The artist creates an image of things as he sees them with his mind and soul, but rarely with his eyes. The photographer, on the other hand, sees life as you and I see it. Most photographers record on bromide that which is obvious, without any effort to discover the poetry and the pathos, the joys and sorrows of life. But there are among them, only a few, who use their portable mechanism to capture the beauty and the glory of life's rarest moments. Their creations transcend the photographer's routine and become works of art in the truest sense of term.
My life has been exciting with my camera. I am grateful to have been a photographer. I use Nikons. But my camera does nothing. It neither makes the picture nor prevents me from taking it. It only helps in achieving an idea, an approach, a sort of direction and, perhaps, a philosophy.
Interiors of Century-old Homes of India
[A note on my major project as a photojournalist]
"The body of my work leans towards a definitive documentation of period homes"
One day, in the late Sixties, in a small town in Tamilnadu in South India, I chanced upon an old door. As I was photographing it, I found myself almost hypnotically drawn inside. It turned out to be a door into a whole different world. For on the other side, hidden like a secret, was the home of a simple Brahmin musician. A home where the man's family had been living for generations, in a manner untouched by the passage of years in the bright noisy world outside. Looking around the home was like touching a delicate gauze of memories that went back nearly a century; a gauze indelibly imprinted with all the family's accumulated joys and hopes, its dreams and downfalls. The photograph that I took that afternoon opened up a new chapter in my life. I started looking at homes, specially their interiors, with much curiosity. The Indian home became my centre of interest. I began my photo-odyssey in search of old homes.
The homes I have photographed are all lived-in homes with at least a flicker of life in them. They are around a century old. I have left out palaces and public buildings for they were built with different considerations in mind. A home is built for an individual and his family; it reflects his relationship with society at large and the style of life of the period.
The most difficult part of my project, however, has been the identification of homes and the elaborate inquiries it entails.
Photographing inside homes also meant an invasion of the privacy of those who lived in them. But once the sincerity of purpose behind the project was explained to the inmates, most homes opened their doors for the camera. Often, it has been my experience that the homes I encountered quite accidentally and went in were the ones that thrilled me and rewarded the most and became an unforgettable part of my total experience.
T.S.Nagarajan© T.S.Nagarajan (2006)
Used with permission