Close encounters: 365days myopic view

{ Essay on photography by Arjun Ramachandran, a media student with interests in cinema and photography. 365 days myopic is a smart phone photographic series done by photographer Abul Kalam Azad, as a contribution to Project 365 public photo archive Tiruvannamalai. In this unique, expansive body of work Abul records the everyday life in the ancient town, Tiruvannamalai. Abul is the Director of Project 365, and co-founder of Ekalokam Trust for Photography.}

Since the advent of digital technology and its fast growth, we have been carelessly misplacing or erasing much of the images we produce, “safely” storing them in the long forgotten floppy discs, CD drives, USB drives, old mobile phones, cameras etc. Photography, which is essentially a print, has been stripped of its traditional alchemical quality and longevity, and has almost completely become mere virtual intangible images. While this digitization has undoubtedly democratised the medium and stretched the horizons of thought of its practitioners, the danger is, in an instant, the innumerable casual-yet-valuable images that are being made can be lost forever to our future generations.

Digital recording is, largely, mere magnetisation of a material or optical marks made on a surface. The unwanted and untrue connotation that the word “digital” has acquired is that it is only presentable on a screen; “digital” only really means quantised, non-continuous data. On the basis of this misunderstanding, we have been storing digital images for the purpose of virtual viewing alone and by nature, digital recording is much more vulnerable to damage compared to analogue (read continuous) recording. A stray magnetic field is enough to wipe out a hard disk.

Even though several thousand photographs are being taken every day, by nearly everyone, only a very few provide thoughtful and focused efforts to preserve these photographs like yesteryear epigraphical documentation or other iconographic motifs for the benefit of future generations. This is as much an effect of seeming unnecessity and non-viability as it is of gross negligence. Documents are only valuable for those who see a use for it many years down the line, and not for those who do not intend to pay a second thought to the matter. Smart phone photographs, therefore, seem trivial and replicable for the majority of the authors and as such, irrelevant. These photographs may not be printable in larger formats, may not be commercially viable, but in an archive, they serve well the intended purpose – a visual document of ordinary people and their everyday life in an ancient town.

Abul Kalam Azad has been making smart phone photographs as connecting anecdotes for project 365. He has created several hundred lo-fi images depicting the life and culture of this ancient town, recording routine or chance meetings, casual events or details of his own daily life. Project 365 public photo archives will be locally preserving these images for public access and research. Setting aside his expertise in analogue & experimental photographic works and after traversing through digital, painted, manipulated images, Abul has consciously shifted to smart phone image making in a bid to utilise its nuances.

Smart phone images readily seem to bring in an element of autobiography. The daily events are most often captured through them, almost always in a moment of subconscious composition and judgement. There is a lack of formality or any veil of pretention that a bulky professional camera might induce even though the pretentions and mannerisms of the “real world” remain intact, as the smart phone remains nearly invisible between the subject and the artist. Even in staged portraits captured on smart phones, the posture of the subject becomes much freer. The smart phone becomes something of a non-intervening observer, not affecting the system at all.

The myopic eye of smart phone demands that the photographer has to be within a certain “intimate” distance to take a photograph. There has to be a certain connection between the one who is being photographed and the photographer himself – using a smart phone to create portraits of people means that the photographer is not a mere witness; the one who is photographed often looks straight into the camera and thus, at the photographer. A reflection of the effect of eye contact between the photographer and the subject is captured in the portrait.

This presence of intimacy is what a spectator relates to in these images. As personal spaces become increasingly reserved and physical contact becomes restricted in a wave of conservative urban-elite influence, this welcome intrusion of a nonprofessional-appearing, smart-phone-wielding photographer into touching distances of the subject is a reminder of the extent of simplicity and freedom in human relationships.

Disclaimer: Photographs and text published in this post is 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

Legendary Photographers – Eliot Elisofon (1911 – 1973)

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


Legendary photographers: PRS Mani Iyer

PRS Mani Iyer

PRS is not known in the contemporary photography world. However, his famous photo of Sage Ramana titled ‘Mani bust’ taken during the 1930s, continue to be circulated and worshiped by several thousand devotees.

PRS Mani was born at the turn of the 18th century as the first son to the couple Ramaseha Iyer and Sivasankari who hailed from Pattamadai, a village in South Tamil Nadu. After his Honour’s degree in Arts, Subramanian took to professional photography and joined the then famous Modern Theatre of Salem as an executive photographer. Modern Theatres Ltd. was a motion picture movie studio in Salem, Tamil Nadu India started by Thiruchengodu Ramalingam Sundaram (aka TRS) in 1935. The early South Indian Cinema headquarters was based in Salem and this sophisticated studio produced over more than 150 movies until 1982. Modern Theaters was situated in the outskirts of Salem – Yercaud road, which is currently in ruins. Only later the Tamil Cinema base had moved to Chennai. Several of PRS’s promotional photographs of eminent actors, actresses and artists taken during his time at the Modern Theaters are lost to the contemporary photography world.


During the 1930s, N.R. Krishnamurti Iyer was asked by the Ramana ashram Sarvadhikari to send photographs of Nataraja, the majestic idol in the Meenakshi temple, in front of whom the boy Ramana stood for long spells of time, shedding copious tears of ecstasy, before he left Madurai for good. He also wanted a photograph of the house where Ramana was born in Tiruchuzhi and of some other places there. These were meant to be placed in the Tamil biography Sri Ramana Vijayam by Suddhananda Bharati . N.R.Krishnamurti Iyer brought P.R.S.Mani who was his student and an expert photographer. Ramana used to call him Mani and he spent almost 14 years under the loving care of Ramana. Mani married the daughter of Ganapati Sastri, Tiruvannamalai. He died at the young age of 33 years.

Photography (C) PRS Mani Iyer / Ramana Ashram Archives
Photography (C) PRS Mani / Ramana Ashram Archive
PRS Mani 1
photography (C) PRS Mani / Ramana Ashram Archive

During the short span of his photographic career, he made several marvelous images of the Sage Ramana, especially during the Skandasramam days and many other historical photographs of the town as well. There is very limited information about Mani and his contribution during his time with modern theatre is unknown till now. If one starts digging they will find marvelous images of those early South Indian cinema days taken by this photographer.

Text research by Tulsi / Ekalokam Trust for Photography. Photography © P.R.S. Mani / Ramana Ashram archives.



Folklore medicine and Indigenous herbs

Traditional (folklore) medicine comprises knowledge systems that developed over generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine. It is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness. Folk medicine consists of the healing practices and ideas of body physiology and health preservation known to some in a culture, transmitted informally as general knowledge, and practiced or applied by anyone in the culture having prior experience. In the written record, the study of herbs dates back 5,000 years to the ancient Sumerians, who described well-established medicinal uses for plants. In Ancient Egyptian medicine, the Ebers papyrus from c. 1552 BC records a list of folk remedies and magical medical practices. The Old Testament also mentions herb use and cultivation in regards to Kashrut.
Siddha Medicine is usually considered as the oldest medical system known to mankind. Siddha is reported to have surfaced more than 10,000 years ago. “Siddhargal” or Siddhars were the premier scientists of ancient time. Siddhars were mainly concentrated in ancient Tamilakam (present period South India), and laid the foundation for this system of medication. Siddhars are alchemists, mathematicians and philosophers. Most of these masters, apart from being knowledgeable in other fields, practice medicine as well. They are considered to have acquired the ashta siddhis (the eight supernatural powers). Agathiyar was the first Siddhar. Many herbs and minerals used in Ayurveda were described by ancient Indian herbalists such as Charaka and Sushruta during the 1st millennium BC. Project 365 photographer Pee Vee (Venkatesan Perumal) has been creating photographic visuals of the folklore doctors, and indigenous herbs and its ecological surroundings, the mineral deposits, etc., Pee Vee is a Photographer and Entrepreneur, with limitless passion to capture light. He is a Chemical Engineer with an MBA. Prior to advertising, he was an agriculturist, sold insurance and designed web banners. He is born in Tamil Nadu.

Erukku (giant milkweed) / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 public photo archives
Erukku (giant milkweed) / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 public photo archives

Errukku (Giant Milkweed / Asclepiadacea family) is one of the most commonly found medicinal plants in our surroundings. The plant is a medium sized shrub and is commonly found in dry regions across India. The plant is called by the name arka meaning sun in Ayurveda due its high potency and sharpness. The plant is mainly a toxic corrosive plant, however, when someone uses properly it has eminent medicinal utility. In our folklore medicine and culture, this plant is used for treating illness and plant’s flower, both the blue and white variety are used as an offering to the deity Ganesha. one of the important deities. In spite of its medicinal value and sacredness, it is not grown in home gardens as it is believed to be the shelter of yakshis (demon goddesses). The useful parts of the plant are its leaves, root, bark, flower and latex. The latex of the plant is used by ayurveda practitioners for ksarasutra preparation as a binding agent. The toxic effect of the plant causes drastic purgation and leads to bruises on skin. The medically purified plant is used to treat hemorrhoids, abdominal conditions, skin disorders, worm infestation, respiratory track, and various other ailments. The plant has a beautiful seed which is hydroscopic in nature and flies in air, a chase and catch play tool for children. The latex is collected preferably during early morning by giving a nip to the stem. The flowers are beautiful to look but do not have any particular odour. The leaves of plant are soft and smooth. The latex of the erukku is used for malingering criminal offenses.

Erukku (giant milkweed) / smart phone photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad /  Project 365 public photo archives
Erukku (giant milkweed) / smart phone photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 public photo archives
Erukku (giant milkweed) / Photography (C) Pee Vee / Project 365 public photo archives
Erukku (giant milkweed) / Photography (C) Pee Vee / Project 365 public photo archives


All rights reserved. All the images published in this page is copyrighted property of the author (photographer) and is a part of PROJECT 365 PUBLIC PHOTO ARCHIVES. Text by Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi / EtP. Plant research and description by Dr. Mahima Rahman. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and/or EtP (PROJECT 365 public archives). Prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing for non-commercial public use and research. For more information contact EtP at {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405 / /