Pictures with a purpose

A weekend photo walk by Madras Photo Bloggers and Tamil Nadu Tourism offered amateur shutterbugs a chance to tell stories in frames
Pictures with a purpose
Pictures with a purpose

What do you capture when you take a photograph? An object, a person, a place, or perhaps, an action? But, on Sunday, a batch of (mostly) amateur photographers had gathered at the Kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore not for its intricate architecture, the expansive collection of golu dolls on the streets or the local scenery in the aftermath of rain — but to find a story. Organised by the photography collective, Madras Photo Bloggers (MPB), and Tamil Nadu Tourism, the photowalk started at the temple, taking three streams of the shutterbugs along the streets flanking it.

Meandering through the traffic, we hopped from one golu exhibit to another (some standing over pools of rainwater), where the photographers were fixated on the vivid colours of the dolls. But, as I said, they were not to be attracted only by the items, but seek a story as well. Srivatsan Sankaran, the founder of MPB, reminded them of the same. “You’re not capturing photographs, you are documenting stories. For this, you need to get to know the background of the people; interact with them. Connection is very important for this. Always talk to people and connect with them,” he announced to the group.

For Arun Kumar, a novice, advice like this keeps him coming back to MPB’s photowalks. Photography called to him as a pandemic hobby and he was soon introduced to the collective through his friend’s Instagram account. “Street photography is Srivatsan’s forte. Initially, I used to just click, click, click. Now I wait, find a story, think about what I want to say and that has improved my photography a lot,” he observes. The advice was only one aspect of what Arun found inviting, “I was attracted by the values of MPB. It was the first time I saw a photography group that practised inclusivity.”

MPB, an organisation proud of its inclusivity, works with many deaf people, several of whom were at the walk. And as others began conversations with the sellers, those of the deaf community were not discouraged, thanks to the Indian Sign Language (ISL) interpreter, Deva. With his help, they began sharing words with vendors who spoke of their work, hometowns and family. Whatever slight hesitation may have been present at the beginning of the walk was soon gone when both, the deaf and the salespeople, found their own language of gestures and actions. I spotted a photographer, Aravind R, helping Rajeshwari pose with her bommai without any words exchanged. After which, he gestured to her that he will bring back a print of her image next week, a practice highly encouraged by Srivatsan. Another, Dinamani, was attending the walk for the first time and shared that it was a very nice experience learning so much on the first day.  

This was the desired result for the founder, who attempted to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing community through these walks. “I want to create more awareness about sign language and I thought a photowalk would be one of the ways to do so. It is not just about photos but about connecting people, building human skills. Through this experience, the deaf get a chance to experience the ‘real’ world, while the others are introduced to sign language,” says Srivatsan, who is also a part of the deaf community.

Dusk crept up on the horizon and the overcast skies turned darker quickly while we moved further into the streets. We moved in for a final huddle, waiting for the announcements and conclusion. This is where we met Nirmal Kumar, a deaf amateur photographer, who had been introduced to MPB by Aravind. “I started taking interest in the subject in class 10. I  didn’t know anything about photography so I would search more about it online. I got a camera but didn’t know much of the basics. Finally, friends referred Srivatsan to me, and now I’m practising how to click wildlife photos,” he shared. Unfortunately, it was only later that Deva taught the group basic sign languages so we could not gesture “it was nice to meet you”. Maybe next time.

As the event concluded, Srivatsan gathered the group to announce a photography contest that would assess their clicks of the day. The winners of the same will be receiving goodies and certificates from Tamil Nadu Tourism. For those interested, there will be more walks upcoming in different locations. Maybe even in locations out of town, as per Sandeep Nanduri, managing director of Tamil Nadu Tourism, who added, “We have associated with MPB to organise this month’s walk, which is Navratri-themed. Through this, locations (traditional, cultural and historical) will be popularised by the pictures they share, and the walk will act as a motivation and skill development for those who are differently-abled. Sunday’s events have definitely been witness to the latter.

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