Project 365 Tiruvannamalai

Around the hill / Photography (C) Thierry Cardon / Project 365 public photo archive Tiruvannamalai
Around the hill / Photography (C) Thierry Cardon / Project 365 public photo archive Tiruvannamalai

 

Title: Around the Hill
Photographer: Thierry Cardon
Medium and format: 35mm analogue palladium print
Year: 2014 / 2015
Courtesy: EtP Project 365 public photo archive

EtP PROJECT 365

Collectively creating and preserving photographic visuals of the fast vanishing landscape, divergent customs, pluralistic culture and diversified Dravidian society of ancient Tamilakam, a region comprising modern Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry.

இ. டி. பி. ப்ராஜெக்ட் 365
அதி வேகமாய் மாறி வருகின்ற நவீன தமிழ்நாடு, கேரளம், புதுச்சேரி, கர்நாடக மற்றும் ஆந்திர மாநிலங்களை உள்ளடக்கிய பண்டைத் தமிழகத்தின் சமகால வாழ்வுமுறையையும், கலாச்சாரத்தையும், பன்முகத்தன்மை வாய்ந்த திராவிட சமூகத்தையும் புகைப்பட பதிவுகளாக பாதுகாக்கும் ஒரு பொதுமை புகைப்படக்கலை திட்டமே ப்ராஜெக்ட் 365.

EtP പ്രൊജക്റ്റ് 365
അതിവേഗം മാറ്റങ്ങൾക്ക് വിധേയമായിക്കൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്ന ആധുനിക കേരളം, തമിഴ് നാട്, കർണാടകം, പുതുച്ചേരി, ആന്ധ്രയുടെ ചില ഭാഗങ്ങൾ എന്നിവ ഉൾപെടുന്ന സംഘകാല തമിഴകം പ്രദേശത്തിലെ സമകാലിക ജീവിതരീതികളും നിലനില്കുന്ന സംസ്കാരവും വൈവിധ്യമുള്ള ദ്രാവിഡവേരുകളുള്ള സമൂഹവും കേന്ദ്രീകരിച്ച്‌ ഫോട്ടോ ദൃശ്യഭിംഭങ്ങൾ സൃഷ്ടിക്കാൻ ശ്രമിക്കുന്ന ഒരു പൊതു സാംസ്‌കാരിക കൂട്ടായ്മയാണ് പ്രൊജക്റ്റ്‌ 365.

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Legendary Photographers – Eliot Elisofon (1911 – 1973)

Eliot
Since tri-sangam period, Tiruvannamalai had been a preferred destination for creative people from various traditions and the Annamalai hill in this historical town has found mention in many Sangam period literatures. The light, landscape and people of the sacred hill and its surroundings attracted many photographers to document this town. The earliest known photograph of Tiruvannamalai was taken in the year 1880. During the late 1940s Life TIME Magazine had sent noted American commercial / documentary photographer Eliot Elisofon on an assignment to document the Annamalai (Arunachaleshwarar) temple in Tiruvannamalai.

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Eliot Elisofon, (1911 – 1973) was an internationally known photographer, filmmaker, author, artist, and art collector. He started as a commercial photographer in 1935 but soon after developed an interest in photography as social documentary and decided to devote his career to photojournalism. He joined Life TIME magazine in 1942 as a war photographer-correspondent and worked on staff or freelance for the magazine until it ceased publication in 1972. After the war he worked on large geographical photo features in the United States and around the world. He was appointed a research fellow in primitive art at Harvard University in 1958 and was a member of the Harvard Peabody Museum’s 1961 expedition to film tribal life in New Guinea. He published more than 20 books, made documentary films, wrote numerous scholarly articles, and was a founding trustee of the Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. He died in the year 1973.

Photography (C) Eliot Elisofon
Photography (C) Eliot Elisofon
Photography (C) Eliot Elisofon
Photography (C) Eliot Elisofon

Eliot’s assignment in India was to depict the art and ancient rock cut architecture of Hindu and Buddhist temples at various locations in India, including cave temples at Ellora, Ajanta, Elephanta Island, and Māmallapuram; Lingaraj and other temples of the Hindu god Siva in the temple city Bhubaneswar; the Sun Temple of Konārak and Arunachaleshwara Temple in Tiruvannāmalai. He had made several photographs of Tiruvannamalai, the Annamalai (Arunachaleshwar Temple) and Sri Ramana at his Ashram. Eliot’s photographs on Tiruvannamalai was published on 30th May 1949, the article was titled “Holy Man”, written by Winthrop Sergeant.
Click this link for the full article:
https://books.google.co.in/books?id=1k4EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA92&dq=ramana+maharshi&hl=en&ei=iQ4tTbGSFcH-8Ab53eiDCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=ramana%20maharshi&f=false

Disclaimer: Images (C) Eliot Elisofon / Time LIFE magaziine archive. Text research Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi / Ekalokam Trust for Photography

 

Paradigms of Perception: Between the Visual and the Optic

{ R Nandakumar is an art historian and culture critic. He has taught art history and aesthetics in various Fine Arts colleges and has been Professor and Head of the Department of Visual Arts in Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi. Formerly a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, he has currently been a Senior Nehru Fellow at Teen Murti Bhawan, New Delhi.

As an art historian though visual arts is his home discipline, cultural musicology is another major area of his research interest. His works in both have appeared in important academic journals and they address areas of intercultural concern from the perspective of the sociology of culture. }

Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan
Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan

Generally speaking, photography has always found itself uncomfortably placed in the scheme of things of the modernist aesthetic agenda. The aesthetic assumptions and value preferences that fed into a vindication of abstraction in art-historical discourse were mostly in agreement with the prejudices surrounding the debate over the artistic status of photography. This in turn had its terms of reference in the perceived dichotomy between art versus fact, or between representation versus indexicality. It is not without reason that the brand of photography that could strike any kind of a respectable alliance with the fine art traditions of Indian modernism is called ‘art photography’. Thus the ‘art’ in such art photography is achieved in terms of an attempt to mimic painterly modes through a deliberate denaturing of all the mechanistic attributes intrinsic to the medium which are supposedly at variance with art. Soft focus and blurriness, perspectival distortions and angled views, contrast lighting, deep shadows and staged compositions and above all, a pictorialism of the pathetic fallacy kind in which sentimentalised nature motifs are presented – these are still the mainstay of art photography in India.

But photography has outlived this situation in practice by finding new uses, functions and the norms of a new sensibility that it set itself which, as it stands, had marked a break with the aesthetic of pictorialism.  The contra-aesthetic connotations inherent to the photographic medium like its anti-style, authorial absence, its mass reproducibility and destruction of aura on the one hand and the fact of its ideological locus in the techno-industrial environment of capitalism and its nexus with the semiotic systems of advertisement, fashion and consumerism, on the other have all qualitatively different implications in the context of postmodernism. All these have provided the necessary terms of reference for a context of its practice that is in tandem with the conceptual premises of postmodernism, “not as an art-in-itself but an option within an inter-semiotic and inter-textual ‘arena.’”1 And this is crucial to an understanding of the signifying process of photography as a medium in the present world, wherever it is. As Douglas Crimp notes:

The centrality of photography within the current range of practices makes it crucial to a theoretical distinction between modernism and postmodernism . . .[but] it is clear that photography is too multiple, too useful to other discourses, ever to be wholly contained within traditional definitions of art. Photography will always exceed the institutions of art, always participate in non-art practices, always threaten the insularity of art’s discourse.2

Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan
Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan

As “the spheres of art and life, of emotion generated from within and emotion generated from without, or work and leisure, are increasingly indistinguishable”3 in the present-day urban life, so there is a space in the public sphere, in the quotidianness of which the aesthetic and the informational are co-identical at the level of message. By accepting one’s context as that to which culture, communication and creativity form one total perspective, a photographer who is critically self-aware of the aporias of photographic aesthetics and the historicity of its practice, would seek to critically engage this space through his work.

That, to my mind, is what Ramu Aravindan does as a photographer. Ramu’s photographic work has affinities with the tradition of the documentary style (a rather tenuous term) that is traced to Eugene Atget, the turn-of-the-century French photographer who was rediscovered by the Surrealists. The style acquired the cultural and artistic dimensions of social document and initiated a whole new aesthetic in the work of the celebrated American photographer of the thirties and forties, Walker Evans who was a major influence on a generation of distinguished photographers like Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Lewis Baltz and continues to inspire contemporary movements like New Topographics. Evans who was influenced by Baudelaire in spirit and Flaubert by method, brought to bear upon his images a profoundly moral concern and a measure of stylisation that made his style, as is often  said, “the archetypal classicism of the ordinary.”

Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan
Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan

As the choice of subject for any photographer comes as a point of departure for his convictions, so Ramu’s de-aestheticised images in black-and-white of the unprivileged, uneventful and unspectacular sidelights from the scenario of everydayness are informed by a moral conviction and human empathy. A conscious refusal to intervene in his pictures endows them with an aspect of an impersonal, dispassionate stare – the stare of a flaneur (a la Walter Benjamin).4 Even when his images are near-impersonal, as his Calgary pictures mostly are, with their bare, blank streets and open spaces that are totally unpeopled, they are not dehumanised. Instead, traces left by human activity or the left-over of events, like the track of car tyres or melted ice mark a silent sense of human presence with its discreetly off-frame suggestion. In all his pictures there is a conscious avoidance of the narrative-illustrative in terms of ironic juxtaposition of motif or tell-all details as thematic understatement of a literal content.

Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan
Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan

After having graduated from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Ramu went in for his post-graduation at the University of Calgary, Canada where he did his MFA with a photography major. There in Calgary, having been exposed to the works of several pioneers and the different styles (a contentious issue in photography) that put the medium to different uses and the many theoretical implications of the photographic aesthetics, Ramu was increasingly drawn towards the documentary style associated with Walker Evans and its may distinguished practitioners. He found that it has much in common with his own natural inclinations as a visual artist as communicator (more than as creator) and his own attitude as a traveller.

Ramu had shown a series of his Calgary pictures in the exhibition Desert City at Oxford Book Store-Gallery, Kolkata in 1997. One of the outposts for the early European explorers and now becoming something of a boomtown, Calgary has an air of newness about it. Ramu says that he was particularly fascinated by the clarity with which this look of the new was writ large on Calgary’s urban landscape: “I try to use background forms such as signboards, lamp posts, domesticated trees and the pale concrete footpaths to create a ground upon which the people advance. There is an implication of borderlines, particularly between nature and human constructs, in many of my images . . .”5 He had intended them to be seen as a sequence, but the arrangement of the line-up precludes any “juxtapositions that form unintended narrative meaning (as in a film montage that had gone wrong)”, or any repetitive logical order.

Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan
Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan

There is a characteristic sense of place – the look, the feel, the ambience of the place – that is particular to each locale. As it becomes an internalised topography of the mind, it configures in terms of some random details that define the spatial directiveness and bearings of the remembered landscape. More than as landmarks in a factual sense, they are the memory traces that act as orientation points for a mindscape expressive of subjectivity. Ramu’s images have a quality of evoking this sense of place through unexceptional details like a shrub, some fringe plants or a signboard that are endowed with a personal naturalism, having a descriptive tenor with semantic resonance.

Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan
Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan

Generally, Ramu’s images have about them a forthright and stark quality that is heightened by the uniform sharpness of focus and overall flat illumination. Here, the even clarity of the motif that leaves little unsaid is a function of the truth of surfaces that is captured with a conviction that makes these images, to borrow from Harold Rosenberg, the “patterns of unprivileged data into which the secrecy of Being is dissipated.”6 As this clarity gravitates into a certain opacity that comes to equal profundity, the motif sheds its familiarity to achieve a stylisation reminiscent of the “archetypal classicism of the ordinary” of Walker Evans. By avoiding tilted or angled views Ramu achieves a certain head-on, stark frontality of the motif as seen at eye level which also imparts an aspect of confronting it in an unrelenting stare. This frontality of his images is enhanced by its twin aspect of the even flatness of the picture plane. Even when there are steep perspective orthogonals, they do not dramatise space as by the play of light creating volumes of shadow.

Though Ramu spends considerable time trying to get his desired compositions, he feels that much of the thought about it appears rudimentary in hindsight. The various interrelations among the spatial appearance of objects, between object and the direction of its shadow, between textures and surfaces, all constitute a field of meaning that is distinctly antigraphic and at variance with the assumptions of pictorialism.

Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan
Photography (C) Ramu Aravindan

Even when a photograph looks unmediated, without human intervention in the realisation of its image and hence signifying authorial absence, the absence itself is a construction. It is a construction at the interface between factuality and artifice or between simulacrum and point of view; and it is not an empirically given precondition of perception. In many of Ramu’s images, as in the Calgary pictures, the rigorously composed optic array within the frame and the randomness which it suggests of the physical disarray outside the frame (both of which are bound by a causal symmetry) create a subtle dualism. Similar is the dualism between the apparently hands-off, all-at-onceness of his images and an artifice the transparency of which made it possible. Within these dualisms authorial absence is built into the signifying process as a paradox of the very transparency of the image-meaning nexus.

After distinguishing between the two spatial appearances of objects – the ‘natural’ one and that of the object permeated by cognition – Siegfried Kracauer notes:

By sacrificing the former for the sake of the latter the artwork also negates the likeness achieved by photography. This likeness refers to the look of the object, which does not immediately divulge how it reveals itself to cognition; the artwork, however, conveys nothing but the transparency of the object.7

This is also why the primal opacity of the object-in-itself as an aspect of reality perception is something peculiar to the optic ‘unconscious’8 that constitutes the domain of photographic realism. Photography retrieves this opacity of truth that is lost to consciousness – as truth before fact.

Notes:

Peter Wollen, “Photography and Aesthetics,” Readings and Writings: Semiotic Counter- Strategies, Verso, 1982, p. 188

Douglas Crimp, quoted in Jessica Evans, “Victor Burgin’s Polysemic Dreamcoat,” Art has no History! The Making and Unmarking of Modern Art. ed.  John Roberts, Verso, 1994, p. 212

E.J. Hobsawm, The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914 1991, Michel Joseph, 1994, p. 521

Walter Benjamin, “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century” and “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, Verso, 1983

Ramu Aravindan, Introductory Text to Calcutta Exhibition, Calcutta. 1997.

Harold Rosenberg, “Portraits: A Meditation on Likeness,” Portraits: Richard Avedon, Thames and Hudson, 1976

Siegfried Kracauer. “Photography” (1927), Critical Enquiry, vol. 19, no. 3, 1993, p. 427

Walter Benjamin, “Walter Benjamin’s Short History of Photography,” 1931, Tran. Phil Patton, Art Forum, New York, February 1977, p. 47

(First published in Art India, vol. 5, no. 1, 2000)

Disclaimer: Photographs and text published in this post is the copyrighted property of the author. Prior permission is required from the author for republishing and reprinting. For more information, contact Ekalokam Trust for Photography at admin@etpindia.org

 

Project 365 Tiruvannamalai

EtP PROJECT 365 Collectively creating and preserving photographic visuals of the fast vanishing landscape, divergent customs, pluralistic culture and diversified Dravidian society of ancient Tamilakam, a region comprising modern Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry.

Title: Making of an inclusive mountain
Photographer: Waswo X Waswo
Medium: Hand painted on digital archival print
Year: 2014 / 2015
Courtesy: EtP Project 365 public photo archive

EtP PROJECT 365

Collectively creating and preserving photographic visuals of the fast vanishing landscape, divergent customs, pluralistic culture and diversified Dravidian society of ancient Tamilakam, a region comprising modern Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry.

இ. டி. பி. ப்ராஜெக்ட் 365
அதி வேகமாய் மாறி வருகின்ற நவீன தமிழ்நாடு, கேரளம், புதுச்சேரி, கர்நாடக மற்றும் ஆந்திர மாநிலங்களை உள்ளடக்கிய பண்டைத் தமிழகத்தின் சமகால வாழ்வுமுறையையும், கலாச்சாரத்தையும், பன்முகத்தன்மை வாய்ந்த திராவிட சமூகத்தையும் புகைப்பட பதிவுகளாக பாதுகாக்கும் ஒரு பொதுமை புகைப்படக்கலை திட்டமே ப்ராஜெக்ட் 365.

EtP പ്രൊജക്റ്റ് 365
അതിവേഗം മാറ്റങ്ങൾക്ക് വിധേയമായിക്കൊണ്ടിരിക്കുന്ന ആധുനിക കേരളം, തമിഴ് നാട്, കർണാടകം, പുതുച്ചേരി, ആന്ധ്രയുടെ ചില ഭാഗങ്ങൾ എന്നിവ ഉൾപെടുന്ന സംഘകാല തമിഴകം പ്രദേശത്തിലെ സമകാലിക ജീവിതരീതികളും നിലനില്കുന്ന സംസ്കാരവും വൈവിധ്യമുള്ള ദ്രാവിഡവേരുകളുള്ള സമൂഹവും കേന്ദ്രീകരിച്ച്‌ ഫോട്ടോ ദൃശ്യഭിംഭങ്ങൾ സൃഷ്ടിക്കാൻ ശ്രമിക്കുന്ന ഒരു പൊതു സാംസ്‌കാരിക കൂട്ടായ്മയാണ് പ്രൊജക്റ്റ്‌ 365.

For more information contact EtP at project365@etpindia.org / http://www.etpindia.org

Collectively creating and preserving photographic visuals of the fast vanishing landscape, divergent customs, pluralistic culture and diversified lifestyle of an ancient Tamil town.

‘SEMA’ – the whirling dance

'Sema' - solo show of Abul Kalam Azad
‘Sema’ mix-media print on painted hard wood / 30 cm x cm / 2014

What I may not see, let me not see;

What I may not hear, let me not hear;

What I may not know, I ask not to know…

Beloved, I am contented with both thy speech and thy silence !!!

‘Sema’, solo print show of Abul Kalam Azad is the third of the yearlong ‘Photography and beyond’ exhibition series organised by EtP as part of Project 365 – the yearlong public photo art project. In this recent works, Abul has fused found litho prints, archival pigment prints on painted hardwood… the show also features two digital print on silk.

'Sema' mix-media print on painted hard wood / 30 cm x 30 cm / 2014
‘Sema’ mix-media print on painted hard wood / 30 cm x 30 cm / 2014
'Sema' mix-media print on painted hard wood / 30 cm x 30 cm / 2014
‘Sema’ mix-media print on painted hard wood / 30 cm x 30 cm / 2014
'Sema' pigment print on silk / 54 cm x 54 cm / 2014
‘Sema’ pigment print on silk / 54 cm x 54 cm / 2014

The Sema (whirling dance) of the dervishes is an expression of the cosmic joy experienced by the simultaneous effect of annihilation and glorification. Sema is the witnessing of the state of perceiving the mysteries of the God through the heavens of the divinity. It is to fight with one’s own self, to fight, to flutter desperately like a half-slaughtered bird, bloodstained and covered with dust and dirt. Sema is a secret. There is a time with god and during this time neither angel nor prophet can intrude. Sema is to attain that place where even an angel cannot go…

'Sema' - solo show of Abul Kalam Azad
‘Sema’ mix-media print on painted hard wood / 90 cm x 90 cm / 2014

P P Sha Nawas is an author / Independent writer based in Kerela. He has traveled much in South India and has written many articles in the field of art, archeology, theology, culture and photography. His articles have been published in several prominent malayalam newspapers and periodicals which has also been translated to English and published in art magazines across India. He has written the following piece about the ongoing SEMA show:

“Kalai Illam is a small space for art and photography at Thiruvannamalai. The house turned into a gallery space has witnessed many shows of eminent artists since its inception a year ago. Right now, ‘SEMA’ a print exhibition of photographer Abul Kalam Azad is being exhibited. In this recent series, Abul has used the found lithographic popular prints, fused on painted hardwood; digital pigment prints on silk, paper etc., . SEMA, the show titled, talks of a time when men and God communicated without a middle man, neither through the medium of a saint nor a prophet. SEMA shows the part images of our well known saints and gurus, printed in the wooden circles. Why part images of these revered personalities like Narayana Guru, Saradamba, Ambedkar, Vivekananda and God images of Hanuman and others? May be, it is connoting the current scenario of the lost faces of our saint teachers, in the ego driven greedy world of spirituality which is commercialized and marketed. The teachers’ teaching have been lost… instead their images are venerated and adored without any reasonable reason behind!!! Reign of the images, the age of spectacle, according to Debore, is the rule of the day. And, this desperate situation is depicted in a special way in these works. The technique of pop art is used to make an ambiance of sarcasm, as always a characteristic feature of Abul Kalam Azad’s works. Abul’s works for the last couple of decades have been transformed into capturing part images of the objects, instead of usual technique of framing and seeing the entire object. These part images invoke a bunch of memories which may lead the onlooker to his lost past. Photography always leaves traces of nostalgia, and Abul uses this characteristic of his medium to its height and breadth. These prints also provide a rich memory of our cultural past and renaissance fervor.

'Sema' mix-media print on painted hard wood / 90 cm x 90 cm / 2014
‘Sema’ mix-media print on painted hard wood / 90 cm x 90 cm / 2014

Two other prints, which is also round in shape, are marvelous works that Abul has done recently, in which the tiny image of TAJMAHAL and the gopura of Madurai MEENAKSHI temple is captured. The starry night and moon lit ambiance engulfs the images. The gopura of the temple is seen from the view of an arch, which invokes a Mughal architectural motif. And the tiny image of TAJMAHAL, is counter posed with a railway line under. What is meant by this subtle juxtaposition? Connoting something historical? Invoking some historical evolution of our tradition of seeing and viewing? These prints have many things to say, the architectural resemblance of TAJ and the Temple Gupura, the Persian and Egyptian influences and references of Indian architecture could be one way of understanding. It also could be interpreted through the ongoing process of political change that has changed our perception of viewing things. Dynasties and rules change the style and functioning of our viewing. A new ruling ideology may make paradigm shift in our seeing and viewing things. These part images of Gopuram of a South Indian temple and and Tajmahal are thus talking a story of changing political situation. It is like seeing reality through the ideology of the rulers. But the aesthetic aspect of these works should speak by themselves. Not by descriptive words, but by seeing and assimilating the visual itself…”

TO BE CONTINUED

Disclaimer: All rights reserved. All the images published in this post is a photograph of the prints of Abul Kalam Azad taken by project 365 photographer Arnav Rastogi and belongs to EtP Archives. Text (C) PP Sha Nawas. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and EtP Archives. Prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing. For more information about Project 365, contact EtP at {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405 / ekalokam@gmail.com/ FACEBOOK – Project 365