Madurai-based lensman brings folk fraternity's fame in frames
Madurai-based lensman Ajay Kumar has clicked 550 folk artistes from Madurai, Coimbatore, and Chennai for a portrait series at the 10-day Margazhiyil Makkal Isai festival.
Na nalla irukkena (do I look nice)? What about my hair and pottu? How else would you like me to pose?,” asks an excited Muthammal, dolled up in a pink pattu sari and gold jewellery. "Semmaya irukinga (You look superb). Hold on to the smile and style. I'll show you the photo once I’m done and you can see it for yourself," assures photographer Ajay Kumar.
Portraits for posterity
The oppari singer is one among the 550 folk artistes (from Madurai, Coimbatore, and Chennai) to be photographed by the Madurai-based lensman for a portrait series at the 10-day Margazhiyil Makkal Isai festival.
"This kind of a photoshoot is a first-time experience for a majority of the artistes. They have never stepped into a studio, stood for a picture, or framed them at their homes. I'd constantly remind them to sit upright, fold their hands, tilt their shoulders towards the left and look straight into the lens for a better output. In the end, I end up working to suit their requirements," laughs Ajay, a lecturer at Madurai Kamaraj University.
While plenty of candid and performance shots of the artistes were photographed at the event, this series stands out for its sole purpose of documentation.
Every photo will comprise the artiste’s full name with the exact spelling and the folk art form they perform. "The background and lighting for all photos are the same. Only the subject varies. An 80-year-old Gaana artiste, after taking the picture, paused and asked if I enjoyed his gig. I encountered a similar question from a 21-year-old rap artiste. Despite their age, these artistes yearn for recognition and appreciation," he details.
A series to remember
While Ajay approached this as yet another commissioned project, his perspective altered after spending time with the artistes during the shoot. "I was fortunate to meet these veteran artistes from all parts of Tamil Nadu. I listened to instruments like pambadi jamba melam and pambai parai isai for the first time in my life. Despite staying in Madurai for years, I did not know there were rappers from the town. These artistes have incredible talents but are extremely modest. The one thing everybody remarked was, 'You all photograph us but never give it'. I explained to them the purpose behind this and promised that the photos would reach them," notes Ajay.
Besides it being a life-changing experience, what Ajay cherishes about the portrait series is the innocence and diversity displayed by the folk artiste fraternity. "Every artiste wears an individuality. I wanted to bring all their characteristics into the picture. The best part was the attire of tribal groups such as Lambadi, Oorali, Koraga, Todas, Irulas, and Kurumbas. From hairstyle to accessories, they stand true to the representation of their tradition and culture. The confidence and energy they exude are palpable and inspiring. They should've been under the spotlight long back. However, it's never too late to give them the credit they deserve," feels Ajay, who's currently working on a documentary photo series on cork fight and Jallikattu.
"Both are native to the land of Madurai. We take pride in them. I want all my photographs to connect people to their roots. I don't know if folk artistes will be around even if I want to work with them in future. I'll treasure that project forever," he shares.
A special series
This series stands out for its sole purpose of documentation. Every photo will comprise the artiste’s full name with the exact spelling and the folk art form they perform.
For details, visit: @amaranajay