“Every art form should be documented for it to survive through generations. This is relevant especially in folk arts and one way to do it is through photographs and videos,” says Sridhar Balasubramaniyam over a patchy phone call from Tiruvannamalai. This 29-year-old photographer from Coimbatore has been documenting theatre for the past seven years, and recently won the Alkazi Theatre Photography Grant 2020, issued by the New Delhi-based Alkazi Foundation for Arts. The grant is for ₹1,50,000. “The grant was announced three weeks ago. There will also be a felicitation ceremony and an exhibition of my work,” he says.
The jury consisted of eminent names including Diana Campbell Betancourt, artistic director of Samdani Art Foundation in Dhaka; Richard Schechner, professor emeritus, Performance Studies, New York University; and Aveek Sen who is a teacher in visual arts, music, and literature. “I was introduced to them through this fellowship. I have not met them yet, but I admire their work,” says Sridhar.Sridhar’s entry consisted of a photo story with 30 monochrome photographs. “I called it ‘The Space between the Body and the Land’. I am always at peace when close to Nature,” he says. What emotions does Nature exhibit when it is exploited by humans? “Much like how people use their bodies to express themselves in theatre, I decided to use them to portray Nature’s feelings,” explains Sridhar.It was his conscious decision to stay away from vibrant colours. “The aesthetic experience provided by black and white was perfect to convey the emotions that I wanted to share. Usage of bright hues would have diluted the effect,” he adds. The photographs consistof those that he shot over the last few years. “I had to select from thousands of photos. I was at home during lockdown and had enough time to sort it out,” says Sridhar.
Sridhar developed an interest in documenting theatre after he started working with Manal Magudi, a theatre group. “I joined as a photographer but with time, I also explored acting. I have been a part of around 50 plays by the group. It widened my perception of humans, emotions, and cultures,” he says. The road ahead Besides theatre photography, Sridhar also enjoys capturing tribal and inter-cultural weddings. “It is a project that I am working on. One of my photographs showcases the wedding of a Canadian woman and a North Indian man in a tribal hamlet in Kodaikanal,” he explains. Sridhar plans to use the grant to document the different landscapes mentioned in Sangam literature. “It includes kurinji (mountains), mullai (forests), marudham (fields), neithal (coasts), and paalai (deserts). I plan to use theatre artistes for this project as well. I also hope to bring out a book with my photographs soon.”