Legendary Pathumma and her goat

Pathumma and Goat / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP archives

Pathumma and her goat / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP archives

[Vaikom Muhammed Basheer (21st January 1908 – 5th July 1995) was a Malayalam fiction writer from the state of Kerala in India. He was a humanist, freedom fighter, novelist and short story writer. He is noted for his path-breaking, disarmingly down-to-earth style of writing that made him equally popular among literary critics as well as the common man. He is regarded as one of the most successful and outstanding writers from India. Translations of his works into other languages have won him worldwide acclaim. His notable works include Balyakalasakhi, Shabdangal, Pathummayude Aadu, Mathilukal, Ntuppuppakkaranendarnnu, Janmadinam, and Anargha Nimisham. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1982. He is fondly remembered as the Beypore Sultan].

In the year 1985, Ramavarma Thampuran started a Malayalam newsweekly called ‘Preview’. Jamal Kochangadi was the editor in chief. The editorial team policy was to cover investigative journalism including photo-features. I was part of the editorial team. PREVIEW was one of the first few dedicated news magazines in Malayalam. Due to financial challenges, the magazine was closed after a  few issues. Those few issues did enhance investigative journalism in an effective way. Together, we did few good stories. One of the story was about the female infanticide practice prevailing in Usilampatti, Madurai District, Tamil Nadu. The infanticide story was done by Pattatu kumaran and I was the photographer.  We decided to do a story on Basheer’s characters of the noted autobiographical novel Pathummayude Aadu (Pathumma’s Goat; 1959). In this humorous novel, the characters are members of his family and the action takes place at his home in Thalayolaparambu. The goat in the story belongs to his sister Pathumma.

During those times, the tradition was to give the negatives to the agencies. Usually these negatives are neither archived nor preserved. So most of these valuable images are lost forever to the public. Due to my keen interest to preserve these images, I now have few images from this series of work that we had done. These images weave the story of this unique genius. Twenty years has passed since his demise. However, his memories and his words continue to vibrate in our heart. Basheer, Sulthan of words and legend, his real characters and the surrounding landscape continue to linger fresh in my mind. Salute you Basheer Ji. Thank you.

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

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Two portraits of an artist

AP Santhanaraj / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 1986

AP Santhanaraj / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 1996

Most of the Southern Indian artists remember A.P. Santhanaraj as a guru. I am not a student of Santhanaraj and have never met him in person. In the year 1996, during my usual visit to Tiruvannamalai, I saw a familiar person rushing in his moped… he was wearing just a lungi and looked like a speeding Sadhu …. There was something special about him and he resembled Santhanaraj. In my curiosity, I turned my bike and started following his bike. I must have chased him for almost a km and missed him in a turning. I was lost…. I saw a policeman nearby and enquired about Santhanaraj. The policeman asked me with a fond respect, “oh… the artist? He lives in that house…” I knocked the house and the moment he opened, I fell on his feet. He asked, “I cannot recollect you….Are you my student? Did you study in Kerala?…” I replied, “No. I know you from your photographs and many of artists friends like NN Mohandas, K. Prabhakaran, Doughlas etc., have talked a lot about you….” The very same day I took this photograph of A.P. Santhanaraj.
AP Santhanaraj / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2009

AP Santhanaraj / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2009

In the year 2009, A.P. Santhanaraj passed away and as a tribute to this legend I made the second image titled ‘Eye of an artist’.

Born on March 13th 1932 in Tiruvannamalai, Tamilnadu, Andrew Peter Santhanaraj at the age of four was considered a child prodigy for his fondness for drawing. His powerful and influential mother often distracted him with illustrated alphabets indirectly kindling his interest to the world of visual perception. The young boy was already a rebel in his own right; he considered formal learning artificial and didn’t want to join the local Danish Mission School preferring to pursue a life studying and exploring art. He had heard of the prestigious Madras College of Arts & Craft (then school), and at the age of 10 wanted to join it, but was promptly refused for being drastically underage. He had to wait another 6yrs (1948) for his dream to come true.He completed his Bachelor of Art degree in 1953 with distinction and the gold medal. He then went on to do his Post Graduation (1953 – 55) with scholarship from the same institution. Here, two doyens of the era, Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury and K.C.S. Panickar shaped his artistic persona. Both believed in non-interference and freedom to the students in their exploration with techniques, materials and basic visual elements. An approach that was congenial to the budding artist, who firmly believed that originality of vision and newness of ideas, should be the very key to learning. Those formative years at the college shaped his vision as an artist. It was here under Panicker’s sway that he developed – the idea of an ‘Indian identity’ within the parameter of world art.

In 1958 at the behest of Panicker who then was the Principal of the Madras College of Arts & Craft, he was appointed as a Lecturer at his alma mater, in the painting dept. In 1985 he became the Principal and continued till 1990. As an art master, he was considered an exemplary mentor, a genius, a pioneer and a trendsetter. In that role he shaped the futures of many promising artists of Chennai like K M Adimoolam, R B Bhaskaran, C Douglas, R M Palaniappan, K. Muralidharan and others. His eccentric nature and emotional passion left a deep impression on them. AP Santhanaraj played a dominant role in the growth and development of the ‘Madras Art Movement’. He is considered by many in South India to be the most influential artist after K.C.S. Panicker and S. Dhanapal that came out of the Madras College of Arts and Craft.

Central to his work from the start was his love for the line; its’ meandering through pictorial space. At some point in his interaction with Panicker he had said “a line is a line, it is universal”. But later in his career when Panickers’ Indian ethos had taken root within him, he qualified this statement to say …”There was something Indian even in a line”. This ethnic sensibility manifested in the primordial quality of his line drawings, giving birth to what could be termed ‘the indigenous line’. Colour was secondary to the line; its use was mostly bright and outlandish. One of the most defining aspects of AP Santhanaraj’s works is the quality of his line. It is this fundamental element, which sets apart this artists stylistic norm. He uses this element spontaneously exploring it endlessly and creating unique visual compositions with it.

A.P Santhanaraj’s contribution to Indian modern art was immense. As an artist he was dedicated to his artistic research, passionate in exploring different mediums and materials. As a teacher he was enthusiastic about his students’ progress and relentless in his effort to make a difference with his pioneering vision. He is considered as one of the pioneers and forerunners of the modern art movement in the country.

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

A strip of negatives and an untold story of the first Cochin Carnival

Now a days carnival is one of the biggest attraction in Cochin. However, in reality it was a collective effort by Cochin youths. I was part of festival since its original idea took shape in early 1985. The year 1985 was proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Youth Year, or IYY. The proclamation was signed on January 1, 1985. In the year 1984, three youngsters from Cochin, namely, George Augustine Thundiparambil (Roy), Ananda Felix Scaria (Ananda Surya) and Antony Anup Scaria (Anoop) decided to organize a month long grand public event to celebrate the signing of the proclamation. Although, visionaries of the event didn’t intend this to be a celebration of the Portuguese carnival, in later years the original International youth year celebrations got revived as a continuity of the Portuguese New Year revelry held during the colonial days. The history of the grand event ‘The Beach festival 1984’ is an example of how an original idea of people or individuals has been sabotaged by dominant clichés and individuals.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

Cochin hosted the first European settlement in the year 1500. After independence of India, Cochin was the first princely state to join the Indian Union willingly. Since then until the 1980s, ‘Fort Cochin’ remained as a sleepy post colonial hamlet. Whist the neighbouring hamlets like Mattancherry were packed with people and activities, lonely streets and almost empty bylines named after the English (Rosy street, Burger street etc.,) decorated this laid down town. Most of the houses were also empty. Loud western music and smell of cakes from the occupied houses hang in the air, spreading the legacy of the colonial past. Fort cochin was not a tourist destination during those times, for both the nationals and foreign backpackers, as there were not many hotels, restaurants, lounge bars, art galleries like now. The Portuguese tradition of yearly celebrations also stopped in the 70s and only the unorganized fancy dress competition and New Year eve celebrations were organized at the beach.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

According to the Beach festival organizers, it was not intended to be a remembrance of the colonial past, but a celebration of the commencing youth year. The event was named as Beach festival. In the month of August 1984, the team had announced the Beach festival with a grand programme at the Mahatma Gandhi beach. After the event, more than 150 youth groups representing different groups, clubs, organisations., from different parts of the island gathered together and pooled in their resources, ideas and events of their interest. Although carnival was not in the original programme, it was added at a later stage owing to the participatory planning process. This spectacular event started during the second week of December 1984 with a cycle race followed by other local ethnic games like tug of war, kuttiyum kolum, kabadi, chakku (jute bag) race and fight, swimming in the ocean etc., Events like music concerts, dance performances, dramas etc., were conducted at the open air beach. The event ended on 1st January (International youth year beginning) with the precession of various cultural representations from all over India called ‘Carnivale Cochin’.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

I still vividly remember the spectacular event. While this carnival procession happened, hundreds of people from different religious background had gathered. Even my mother came with her entire family to participate in this event. She often says that such an event never happened before. The are was earlier proclaimed unsafe for women and it is during this festival several people participated with their families.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

To recollect the words of George Augustine Thundiparambil, one of the visionary of the event for an interview with EtP, “It started as a beach festival. Myself, Felix Anand Scaria (Anand Surya) and Anoop Antony Scaria started this event. Nirmal John Augustine and Radha Gomaty were part of the team since the beginning. Gregary introduced Abul Kalam Azad (photographer), who later became a very active member of the team. Several others started getting involved and at a later stage KJ Sohan, (Corporation Counselor) also joined. Fort Cochin RDO Valsala Kumari extended active support from the government side. During the first beach festival, the word religion or caste or creed or cultural division was not even discussed like it is being discussed now. This was an event organized by the youth for celebrating the International youth year and the amalgamation of the 70s and 80s youth was much evident right through planning stage. Almost 150 youngsters from various backgrounds had came forward to organised the event. WE raised all the money from the public and our own resources. Cultural groups from the Cochin island were invited. Those time youth used this platform to raise issues regarding environment and other social concerns”.

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

The beach festival / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

This spectacular event stood as an evidence of the unity and strength of the youth of those times. Thousands of people from all walks of life and religious beliefs gathered to enjoy and support this festival led by youth. Unfortunately, after the grand finale in 1985 the three young individuals were no longer included in the story of the Cochin Carnival.  I had lost many of the photographs of event and only a few remain with me. I am happy to have these photographs that stand as an evidence of a story that is not told anymore.

Photography © Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Chemical strategies of violation

{ In the year 1990s, I met Johny ML and Mrinal. Instantly, we became very good friends. During that time, I was preparing for a show titled ‘Violence undone’ to be shown at the photography gallery of Max Mueller Bhavan. Johny had completed his Art history and on the look for good opportunties. Those times, the art world was indeed very quiet and photography was not a big bandwagon. There were not that many write-ups on photography as well. I asked them to write a piece on photography to be printed in the catalogue. This article was and is one of the most important write-ups on contemporary Indian photography. Time has changed and Johny is now one of the youngest art historians in India. He writes regularly and uses the online social media networks effectively. He discusses and deliberates on contemporary art issues in his blog http://johnyml.blogspot.in. Thank you Johny and Mrinal. }

Photography plays a double role in society as an image-making entity. On the one hand it traces an existing reality, and on the other it creates a reality of its own. By the third decade of the 19th century, photography started tracing the surroundings within painterly frames. Since then, irrespective of the models objectified by photography, it has been haunted by the ghost of painting. But certain radical approaches introduced by some exclusive photographic artists released this art form from the captivity of painting. Later on, it could exercise a sort of commanding force on other visual arts (as in Dadaism, Surrealism, Futurism, Constructivism, Kinetic art, Optic art, etc).

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Serigraphy print on silver gelatin prints

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Serigraphy print on silver gelatin prints / 1990

At present, a talk on photography cannot be stretched to the extremes of formal plays. The social role it performs as an image-making entity has to be seen in certain critical perspectives. Image making is a political as well as an economic activity. In modern societies, production and consumption play a chief role. The act of mediation done by ‘images’, helps the product to reach the maximum number of consumers. Susan Sontag, in her book ‘On Photography’, says that the image determines our demands upon reality and are themselves coveted substitutes for first hand experience.

While Sontag talks about the power politics or political (as well as sociological) power of photography, Roland Barthes approaches it in purely phenomenological terms. To him, photography is another form of death. The surface of a photograph is a layer which distances it from the living society. In turn, by enacting the role of an observer, society detaches itself from the photographic image with its own outer layer, i.e. the skin.

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Doodles on Silver Gelatin prints / 1995

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Doodles on Silver Gelatin prints / 1995

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Doodles on Silver Gelatin prints / 1995

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Doodles on Silver Gelatin prints / 1995

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Doodles on Silver Gelatin prints / 1995

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Doodles on Silver Gelatin prints / 1995

This distancing process is continued in the act of photography too. The experience of photography lies in the observed subject and the subject observing. Again Barthes stresses this dual experience in terms of pure objectification. The role changes happen in the observed subject and the subject observing. This eventually makes the resultant experience (the photograph) a museum object.

The different forces that underlie the act of observation and the experience of “being observed” become clearer in portrait photography. Barthes says in ‘Camera Lucida’: “Portrait photography is a closed field of forces. Four image repertories interest here, oppose and intersect each other.  In front of the lens, I am at the same time the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he make use of, to exhibit his art.

John Berger approaches photography in sociological terms. From the characters, captured in a photograph, he deduces several social meanings: their social positions and individual positions. These different approaches by three eminent critics make us think more on this medium of art as an exclusive genre. With far advanced technologies, our times produce photographs instantly and for various purposes. It would be interesting to see the role of photography in contemporary society.

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1995

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints /1995

As a mode of communication, photography plays a dominant role in our image-saturated world. Our communication media is so saturated that most of the images coming cut out remain excess and floating. They impose rather then guide. The over-abundance of image makes the intended meaning banal.

In this atmosphere of total banality, how does an image work effectively? Besides its power of creating an unreal demand, how does it precisely create a real understanding of the message which it carries? The difference between the banality of an image and its power of communication is very subtle. Therefore, the artist who works with an image, especially in that of a photograph, should be extremely careful in discerning this subtlety.

Thanks to scientific advancement, the field of photography (the camera as a physical device and the film as a comical one) has attained an unprecedented progress in recent years. Its use in cinema and computerised visuals has revolutionised all the pre-existing concept of photography. The observations made by Barthes, Sontag and Berger, find their respective limitations in the present visual arena. Though these theories are still applicable, the day to day progress in photography demands a more radical approach in its uses (by creative artists) as well as its reading (by critics).

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1990

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1992

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1994

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1990

Abul’s photographs (or work with photographs?) necessitate such a different approach for their successive readings. There is something blasphemous in the conversion of a news photographer into an artist who uses photographs for his creative expression. The blasphemy lies in his bold attempt to subvert the common norms attributed to a photo journalist. The masters in Indian photography most often follow a set pattern. “Photography makes exotic things familiar and familiar things exotic”, says Sontag, “and therefore has a depersonalizing effect.” This depersonalisation of Indians, whether from rural and metroscapes, by the ‘masters’ made India an object of consumption.

Abul’s photographs negate this kind of objectification. He has taken photographs of the ethnic type not only in India but also abroad. He has portrayed the working boys in Mumbai streets as well as the monumental sculptures (of bygone luminaries) in Mumbai city squares. But his specific selection of angels prevents them from being museum objects or exotic pieces.

Photography itself is a violation of the privacy of somebody or something. The clicking sound of a camera shutter is analogous of a death knell. In the act of photography, Abul says, a violation and a killing happen simultaneously. Once these chemicals impressions are presented as they are, it would be a reassertion of violation. But Abul makes another violation on the photograph, which is already a result of the primary violation.

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1990-95

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1990-95

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1990-95

Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Scratches and doodles on silver gelatin prints / 1990-95

Abul draws on photographs. The act of scratching and drawing certain images, mainly images of violation like sword, torch, etc., on photographs brings forth a sort of witchcraft. Violation is vigorous, and the result could be a resurrection. Hence the two-dimensional works of Abul find their way directly into the discourse of contemporary social life. He negates the negation, and violates the violation. So the resultant works oscillate between the social dialectics; creation and destruction, spiritualism and fundamentalism, pacifism and fascism.

Deriving a homogeneous opinion about Abul’s works is a difficult matter. Due to the diversity in the process of work, arrangement and presentation, these works fall in and out of a logical groove. The difficulty that Abul finds at times in positioning his works as well as himself in the current art discourse seems mainly because of his overindulgence with Barthesian ideas.

By comprehending his subjectivity historically and its interaction with social and art practice politically, Abul could make his peripheral strategies politically clear in the current discourses. If Abul is able to keep this perspective intact and work persistently, he could bring the matter in the mainstream discourses on peripheral issues.

By,

Johny M.L. and Mrinal M.Kulkarni

This article was originally published in the catalogue of the show, Violence Undone, 1996. The solo show was done at Photography Gallery of Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi.

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text (C) Johny ML and Mrinial Kulkarni. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

“Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of Thirunangais”

The terms Aravaanis / hijras / third gender describe individuals who are categorized (by their will or by social consensus) as neither man nor woman. Transgender people are called as Aravaani in Tamil and their community is referred as Hijra in India. Tamil Nadu has an estimated population of 40,000 transgender people. In South Asia, most often hijras live in well-defined and organized all-hijra communities, led by a guru. Many work as sex workers for survival.  The Aravanis have a strong community fold and have defined understanding of norms and customs. They have developed unique lifestyle, rituals and beliefs and their interaction / exchange with the other communities is very effective and influential. In Tamil Nadu, the aravanis take active part in the film industry. Most hijras live at the margins of society with very low status and go through untoward mental, physical and emotional agonies. Respecting the dignity of the transgender communities, in the year 2008 Tamil Nadu’s civil supplies department recognised them and offered ration cards. This was the first time that authorities anywhere in India have recognised the group. “It’s a move to support these marginalized people. They exist and we cannot ignore them. We have to accept them as third gender,” said social welfare minister Poongothai Aladi Aruna, a gynecologist herself.  “We started with ration cards because it was the simplest thing to do. Other documents such as passports and voter identity cards will involve policy decisions of the Centre.” In April 2014, Justice KS Radhakrishnan declared transgender to be the third gender in Indian law, in a case brought by the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa) against Union of India and others.

 

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Viluppuram is a Municipality in the Villupuram district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It serves as the headquarters of the district, the second largest in the state. Koovagam is a very small village in the Ulundurpettai in Villupuram district, Tamil Nadu. Usually this village is like any other village without much activity. It has a very small temple made of stone. The presiding deity is Koothandavar, it would mean, “The God of dance”. The local people offer worship once a day to this God. Few outsiders come to this temple to get rid of their disease. There are no monthly festivals at this temple. But there is a great festival on Chithra Pournami  day (full moon that falls during the month of April-May) during which several thousand transgenders (third genders) from all over India participate in the annual gathering which takes place for fifteen days. This festival is dedicated to the presiding deity Koothandavar or Lord Iravan.

 

Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of thirunangais  - Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad

Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of thirunangais – Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad

Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of thirunangais  - Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad

Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of thirunangais – Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

The reunion of thousands of cult leaders and their members, cross dressers, transgenders and their lovers amidst the crowding / competing agents, clients, devotees, social workers, doctors, police, traders and also the presence of countless perverted / frustrated / aspiring spectators, occur at the open paddy fields adjoining a traditional, conservative farming hamlet.  Freely, fearlessly man marries man or man marries a third gender or man marries a Mohini as part of this ritual. The grand celebration of the marriage followed by dance, music, sacrifice, love, sex, ecstasy, sorrow and widowhood is performed in a highly dramatic way.

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

This project is my ongoing photo project that I have been working since 2012. I have been using lo-fi cameras and intend to use both analog and digital techniques.

 

Abul Kalam Azad

31st october 2014

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Southern Salt

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Salt, also known as sea salt, is a crystalline mineral that is composed primarily of sodium chloride ( NaCl ); a chemical compound, belonging to the larger class of ionic salts. Salt is one of the oldest, most universally, prevalent food seasonings and salting is a necessary method of food preservation. The taste of salt ( saltiness ), is one of the basic human tastes. While people have used canning and artificial refrigeration, to preserve food for the last hundred years or so, salt has been the best-known food preservative, especially for meat, for many thousands of years. A very ancient saltworks operation has been discovered at the Poiana Slatinei archaeological site, next to a salt spring in Lunca, Neam County, Romania. Evidence indicates that Neolithic people of the Precucuteni Culture were boiling the salt-laden spring water through the process of briquetage, to extract the salt as far back as 6050 BC. The harvest of salt from the
surface of Xiechi Lake, near Yuncheng in Shanxi, China, dates back to at least 6000 BC, making it one of the oldest verifiable saltworks. Salt was included among funeral offerings, found in ancient Egyptian tombs, from the third millennium, BC as… were salted birds and salt fish. From about 2800 BC, the Egyptians began exporting salt fish to the Phoenicians, in return for Lebanon cedar glass and the dye Tyrian purple. The Phoenicians traded Egyptian salt fish and salt from North Africa throughout their Mediterranean trade empire. In India, the symbolic act of salt has a different significance due to the ‘salt sathyagraha’. The Salt Satyagraha started on March 12, 1930, with the undertaking of the Dandi Yatra, by Gandhiji and 78 of his followers.
The triggering factor for this movement was the British monopoly of salt trade in India and the imposition of a salt tax. As a result of the contemporary British laws, the sale or production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offense. So, while Salt was readily and freely accessible to laborers in the coastal areas, they were forced to pay money for it. Since Salt is needed by all, irrespective of geography… class/caste, religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds, Mahatma Gandhi chose it as the focal point for the Satyagraha.
Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

I had taken these images along the East Coast Road, also known as State Highway 49, a two lane highway in Tamil Nadu, India, built along the coast of the Bay of Bengal connecting Tamil Nadu’s State capital city Chennai with Cuddalore via Pondicherry. The salt, although an essential ingredient of one’s life, the farmers who produce salt are often exploited. They lead a tough life toiling in the hot sun. These photo sketches were taken during my road trip along the ECR stretch using lo-fi cameras.
Ekalokam collective, a firm set-up to merchandise art in every day life has published a photo-notebook titled ‘Southern Salt
Abul Kalam Azad
29th October 2014
(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

“മുഖാമുഖം”

Meeting of two legends – MGR and Mammootty 
MGR, (Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran; 17 January 1917 – 24 December 1987) is a popularly known South Indian film actor / politician. In 1977 he became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu – the first film actor in India to become the chief minister of a state. He remained as chief minister till his death in 1987. MGR is an inevitable icon in Tamil culture and even now his presence can be felt in the cultural, political and social life of contemporary Tamil lifestyle. Mammootty ( Muhammad Kutty Ismail Paniparambil; born 7 September 1951 ) is an Indian film actor / producer who has mainly worked in South Indian movies. During a career spanning more than three decades, he has acted in more than 360 films. Beside than his prestigious Padma Shri Award, he got five state awards, three National film awards for best actor. He was also honored a Doctor of Letters by the University of Kerala in January 2010 and by the University of Calicut in December 2010.
MGR and Mammootty / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s

MGR and Mammootty / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s


This image of MGR and Mammootty was taken by me during MGR’s visit to inaugurate the silver jubilee celebrations of C.T.T.U. (Cochin Thuraimuga Thozhilali Union). The trade union was very popular in Mattancherry. Mammootty’s father-in-law was one of the key leading official of that independent Trade union. I am a big fan of MGR. This was the first time I am meeting MGR. He came from Madras (Chennai) to Cochin (old airport). Most of the journalists and photographers took images of his arrival and went ahead to do other chores. I was an independent photographer during that time and I took this opportunity to be with MGR and stood there watching this legend. Soon after his arrival, the organizers took him to a guesthouse in Wellington. I went along with MGR to the guest house. On the way to the guest house he waved to the Tamil workers who had gathered in front of their settlement which was in front of the airport. I was the only person around, who could communicate with him in Tamil, eventhough it was broken. So, he started asking many questions in his husky voice. Whatever I understood, I responded. He was a soft attentive man… After few hours of acquaintance, I politely and ambitiously asked him whether he could remove his white fur keepa and his sun glasses… I was curious to capture his curly hairs and eyes… Most of his political pictures are with these iconic symbols. My dream was to photograph the artist in him… he laughed… and after a brief silence, he said, “come to Chennai”. I never went to Chennai and never met this legend again.

MGR / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s

MGR / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s

Mammootty / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin prints / 1980s

Mammootty / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s

This meeting must have happened during the 80s. First time I met Mammootty when he got married to Sulfat who is from my neighbourhood. Since then I meet him in the juice shops, market, etc., He used to hang around in his moped. During that time he was not famous as a film actor. He had acted in two or three movies in uncredited roles. Mammooty showed interest to act in theaters. My father’s brother and his friends were running a theater rehearsal camp. Mammootty was part of this play performing in a small role as the revolutionary child of a Muslim landlord. My father’s brother Ismail was the Muslim landlord, the main character of the drama. Sri NK Latheef was the author of the drama and it was directed by OS. Hameed. The rehearsals were conducted in my house terrace. Later we had gone to perform in a nearby remote island called ‘vallar paadam’. I was the asked to be the photographer for this performance as well as, I was the ‘prompter’ for the drama. After this performance, Mammootty started acting in the film, Vilkkanundu Swapnangal, directed by Azad, written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair, and starring Sukumaran in the lead role. His first full length character was in the 1980 film Mela which was written and directed by K. G. George. It is during this time, when Mammootty was becoming popular, this particular meeting between MGR and Mammootty happens diring C.T.T.U Silver Jubilee Celebrations. I never met Mammootty again. Mammootty is a great lover of photography and he likes himself being photographed. Most of these negatives of Mamootty, including his wedding negatives, the drama performance negatives were burnt in a fire incidence.
27th October 2014
Abul Kalam Azad
(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad