From flaming pinks to joyous yellows

Srivatsan Sankaran’s photographs glow with energy and vitality. The work of this 32-year-old engineer-turned-travel photographer is a celebration of people and nature — festivals, landscapes, the drama of everyday life. Take his photographs of the Kumbh Mela, the Kerala boat race or the bull-taming festival in Madurai. Or shots of the Marina beach in Chennai, at dawn or sunset, in glorious silhouette.

Temple priest in Hampi, Karnataka, performing pooja for the ‘Badavi linga’.
Temple priest in Hampi, Karnataka, performing pooja for the ‘Badavi linga’.

As Meghna Majumdar says in The Hindu, “The people in his photographs are often wrapped in colours, be it bright sweaters, plastic rain covers or the myriad watery, powdery hues of Holi. Colours dominate his work — from flaming pinks during Holi celebrations to the joyous yellows of Kolhapur’s Pattan Kodoli festival.”

Srivatsan likes to highlight the uniqueness of India, particularly rural India. “Many foreign photographers make a living documenting India. I thought why shouldn’t I do it?” He has travelled to some 40 cities and countless villages. He photographed the world’s highest post office in Hikkim, Himachal Pradesh; spent three days at the Taj to soak in the atmosphere; visited Cherrapunji, one of the world’s wettest places, thrice.

Colours dominate his work — from flaming pinks during Holi celebrations to the joyous yellows of Kolhapur’s Pattan Kodoli festival.

He says that his “pictures bring out the relationship between mother nature and the people who nurture her. I believe that the best possible way to explore a place is to blend into the indigenous culture and heritage of the people and understand their lifestyles.”  Henri Cartier-Bresson and Raghu Rai are the photographers who have influenced him  the most.

Srivatsan Sankaran
Srivatsan Sankaran

Srivatsan suffers from a serious  disability — he has a hearing impairment. When he was six, the doctor said he was fully deaf in the right ear and profoundly afflicted in the left. His mother burst into tears.

“Being deaf was a big challenge,” says Srivatsan. “It was difficult to make friends. I was shy and unable to connect with the world.”

Holi festival at Sowcarpet, Chennai.
Holi festival at Sowcarpet, Chennai.

However, through sheer determination, he managed. He laboured through school, graduated from an engineering college and worked with TCS for two years. At the age of 23, he gave up his profession and a coveted job at India’s leading IT major for his passion — photography.

Srivatsan was fascinated by photography very early. He taught himself, practised a lot and shot a great deal, read photography magazines, and learnt by making mistakes. “This hobby gives me so much happiness, something I never felt before.”

Monsoon moment after overnight rain in Chennai.
Monsoon moment after overnight rain in Chennai.

“I started with a Canon 500D and learned the basics. After three years, I bought a Canon 6D with my own money. Now, I own a Sony A7R3 camera with a 16–35mm lens. I am also a brand influencer of the Sony Alpha Camera. Sony supports our activities.”

I believe that the best possible way to explore a place is to blend into the indigenous culture and heritage of the people and understand their lifestyles.
– Srivatsan Sankaran

Today he travels, teaches, conducts photo expeditions, interacts with clients and organises events for Madras Photo Bloggers (MPB) which he founded.

Fish cart in Kasimedu, Chennai.
Fish cart in Kasimedu, Chennai.

MPB is a community of more than 4,000 photographers. It enables networking and mentoring and creates a platform for new photographers. It regularly organises workshops and exhibitions, and photo walks, sometimes in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu tourism department. It has conducted more than 10 photo contests.

Aerial view of devotees walking during the Triplicane temple car festival.
Aerial view of devotees walking during the Triplicane temple car festival.

MPB helps the hearing-impaired in many ways. It has come up with a basic photography course in sign language, for a batch of eight to 10, where the facilitators use sign language, facial expression and practical methods to communicate. A camera is provided for course participants who don’t own one. The hearing-impaired participants acquire skills, grow in confidence, and meet others with similar challenges. “Photography opens a new window to the life-impaired. It thrills me to make it possible.”

Hefty fish catch, Kasimedu harbour.
Hefty fish catch, Kasimedu harbour.

Photography in Ladakh

Srivatsan is eloquent about one of  his most wonderful landscape experiences — his visit to the Leh palace in Ladakh which is several storeys high. But much of the palace was inaccessible because of renovation when he visited. There were no stairs or pathways to the higher storeys, so Srivatsan and his group used ladders to explore its seven storeys!

An aerial view of the Kumbh Mela, Nashik.
An aerial view of the Kumbh Mela, Nashik.

Equally challenging in Leh was the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, a Buddhist monastery atop a cliff which has a three-storey-high gold statue of the Buddha. They had to do strenuous trekking to reach the cliff, but the stunning panoramic view of Leh city from the monastery was worth the effort.

The story didn’t end there. They had to get down, and that was scary. “We had to descend with the camera in one hand and balance with the other. Regaining our energies with a sip of Ladakhi tea, we recalled a day spellbound with fascinating memories,” he smiles.

Labour statue at dusk, Marina beach, Chennai.
Labour statue at dusk, Marina beach, Chennai.

Srivatsan’s photographs of Chennai — its markets, temples, festivals and statues, its people and their lifestyle — reflect his love for the city, as can be seen in this photo essay.

 

Courtesy: Between the Lines, Madras Book Club

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