Practioner – Vasantha Yogananthan (A Myth of Two Souls)

I had the privilege of attending online The Photographers Gallery preview show of Vasantha Yogananthan’s show of the seventh book of his work ‘A Myth of Two Souls.’ I was lucky enough to see some of his work at the Unseen festival last year in Amsterdam. It moved me then as it did again today. Vasantha joined us from Marseille to talk about the work.

A description of the project is given here from Vasantha’s web site.

(Vasantha Yogananthan, 2020)

It was so encouraging to hear Vasantha say he had no idea where his project was going to go when he began eight years ago. He knew he wanted to travel to India for a first look but without any idea of what he was going to do. He had in mind to explore a fictional space in his work.

As he travelled he was reading Ramayana and noticed it was everywhere in the streets. It was in houses, cafe’s and people were always talking about it. He then got the idea to travel the journey of the story from Northern India to Sri Lanka. He did so with no intention and from that it became a seven book project. One book for each chapter of the Ramayana.

His work became a search for metaphors for feelings and emotions of family. He also sought representations of metaphysical space. He was struck by the colours in India. ‘Anyone coming to India can’t fail to be overcome by how important colour is there.’ He talked us through some of the pictures on show.

Yogananthan (2018) Sea of Trees

It encourages all of us to look again at our work when Vasantha tells us this was an earlier rejected work from his early days. He looked at it again with new eyes from his growing experience applying paint and ink to his images. He also remembers that when he took this image it was one he took from gut reaction to the scene.

His intention with the application of paint or ink to his images is to bring a deeper magic to the image presented. I know from seeing them for real in Amsterdam and even on the screen here it really is a magical effect.

Yogananthan (2020)
Rainbow Tree Valmiki Nagar, Bihar, India, 2014 (painted in 2020).

Hand painting prints is deeply established in the history of Indian Photography. It was originally for household portraits of wealthy patrons. Vasantha worked with a number of artists practising this skill and developed his own approach. This process enabled him to understand and represent better how Indians see colour. Colour is everywhere in India. He has abstracted this understanding of the skill onto prints of images he has taken in black and white.

Yogananthan. (2020).
The Fishermen Danushkodi, Tamil Nadu, India, 2013 (painted 2020).

The application of strong colours in acrylic paint to what might appear a quite ordinary image has a dramatic effect. Now daily life is transformed in to something magical. Are they dancing, human or ghosts? You decide.

I was struck that the differences each individual print has as a result of adding colour by hand make the images more unique than photographs. They have the authenticity of a painted image.

Vasantha said he feels good about the project coming to an end. It has been a long journey with ups and downs. He is pleased to be finishing with his second show at the TPG as the first was early in the journey. After so much travelling he wants to work in the surroundings of where he lives.

He has a residency coming up in the USA. He has carte blanche to photograph America and has chosen New Orleans as his subject. A US photographer will similarly come the other way to photograph France.

Insights

  • It is ok to not know where you are going with your project and to start with no intention. After two years on the MA I now fully understand this. It is exciting when the idea becomes clearer and takes shape but also very frustrating when you don’t know what your work is really about.
  • Look at old work rejected in the light of new learning and insight. Something that didn’t work at the time may work very well in a new context.
  • Creating meaningful work is painful.
  • Listen to your gut. Your gut may know more about what you are wanting to do than your cognitive head. Look at what it gives you.
  • For me also this is about exploring emotions through material contingent on your own location and being.

Big thanks to the TPG for putting this preview together and I can’t wait to see more of Vasantha’s work for real.

References

YOGANANTHAN, V. 2020. A Myth of Two Souls [online] available at https://vasanthayogananthan.com/personal-projects/a-myth-of-two-souls/ (Accessed: Oct 28th, 2020)

Images

YOGANANTHAN, V. See of Trees, Tree of Life and The Fishermen [online] Available at http://www.polkagalerie.com/oeuvres.php?id=2216&l=2&o=6362&display=1 (Accessed on Oct 28th, 2020)

Categories: Contextual Research FMP, Final Major Project, Positions and Practice

LEN

I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make
decisions.

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.