It’s nice to be insecure,” Tambrahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer, popularly known as T.S. Satyan, had said in December 2008, talking about why he chose photography as a profession. In his more than six decades as a photographer, his works appeared in Life, Time, Deccan Herald, Illustrated Weekly of India and several other publications. More than two years after he died of brain haemorrhage at the age of 86, the photojournalist’s works are on show at his second exhibition at the Tasveer gallery in Bangalore. The exhibition started on Friday.
The first show with Tasveer in 2008 included the several high-profile people he had shot in his career. “This one is dedicated to his love for the common man. These are at the core of his work,” says Kaajjal Guptaa, creative head, Tasveer.
“Call it intimate intrusions, but it is these people, ordinary people, who dominate my oeuvre. Through a tiny aperture, they allow me to freeze-frame the cycle of life: birth, growth and death,” Satyan wrote in his coffee-table book In Love with Life, which was published in 2002.
Titled Recorder of Life, Beauty and Truth, the Tasveer exhibition is a collection of 30 images. The images were taken over several decades, and include the faces and lives of people he encountered as he travelled across the world. From images of nuns entertaining a group of children in Kerala and a top shot of an examination hall in Tehran, to a tubectomy camp in Tamil Nadu, the show covers his ability to find life in a frame.
In black and white, the images are representative of history. “My favourite pictures are the old ones that always show the passage of time. In a way, they have antique value,” Satyan had said of his love for black and white.
Satyan’s love affair with the camera started in school in Mysore, when he borrowed his friend’s box camera and took pictures of interesting faces and events on the streets of Mysore. These pictures were mailed to local magazines and newspapers. There were several rejections but a few were published. That was all it took to convince Satyan that he wanted to be either a journalist or a photographer, despite what he referred to as “discouraging speeches from my father and relatives”.
It took a brief stint as a staff photographer with the Deccan Herald in 1948 in Bangalore, and another one as a features writer with The Weekly in 1950 in Mumbai, for him to understand what freedom meant to him. “I needed my own time and space, so I decided to shift back to Mysore and become a freelancer,” he said.
R.K. Narayan, a close friend, had not yet been recognized as a great author, and was struggling to sell copies of his book, Swami and Friends. “At that point his claim to fame was a column he wrote for The Hindu, and he told me that even he had received rejections from publications.”
Assignments with The Illustrated Weekly eventually paved his path to success. “Weekly was the only magazine that did justice to photographs and they even wanted me to write the text that went with the pictures,” said the Padma Shri award winner, who strongly believed that neither text nor picture alone could always tell the whole story.
“For me, a photograph is meant to document spontaneous moments, and how you react to that moment becomes evident in your picture. I find it amazing that a cold machine like a camera helps you produce the most emotive pictures,” he had said in the 2008 interview.
Despite a flair for writing, Satyan’s heart lay in pictures and he constantly lamented the fact that images suffered owing to a lack of space and paper quality. “I am waiting for a day when editors learn to get thrilled by visuals and don’t always mete out stepmotherly treatment to the graphic element,” he had said.
Recorder of Life, Beauty and Truth will be on exhibit till 5 August at Tasveer, Kasturba Road, Bangalore. The exhibition will also travel to Mumbai, New Delhi, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. For details, visit www.tasveerarts.com