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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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)
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)