“Assume the form of a golden deer and lure Rama away. Meanwhile I will run away with Sita,” commands Ravana, the ten-headed King of Lanka, to one of his demon slaves in the ancient Indian epic poem, the Ramayana. Ravana’s plan is to entice Sita, the beautiful goddess, and steal her away from Prince Rama. While the golden deer distracts the prince, Ravana disguises himself as a holy man begging for money; and when Sita reaches out to offer him food, he catches her and carries her away to his kingdom. This scene marks a pivotal point in the Ramayana, a story believed to have been written over 2000 years ago by Valmiki, a celebrated poet in Sanskrit literature. It is the narrative that Vasantha Yogananthan is following in his ambitious seven-part photographic project, A Myth of Two Souls, which is now on its fourth chapter, Dandaka. He’s found a different way to convey the story in each chapter, and for this one, wanted to push himself further out of his comfort zone. For previous books he …
“For me, photography was more of a need, because I was going through a personal crisis. I had lost a friend, and I had to find a way of living again.” At the beginning of last year Debmalya Roy Choudhuri travelled to Rishikesh, a city in northern India, at the foot of the Himalayas, known as the “yoga capital of the world”.
He wanted to remove himself from the urban chaos and violence in his hometown, Kolkata, and challenge the idea of home as defined by four walls. “I had a very difficult childhood where I had to confront a lot of darkness,” says Choudhuri, who was sick for a long time. “I grew up in a very confined space. My parents went through a lot of problems and my family fell apart.”
Poulomi Basu’s Centralia is no easy read. The situation it unravels − a protracted fight for land and resources in central India − is not only complex, but also largely unheard of, especially in mainstream Western media. And Basu, reflecting on contemporary documentary practices, refuses to simplify it into a readily digestible format. Instead, she wishes to reflect the bewildering atmosphere that reigns in the region. “The adage ‘The first victim of any conflict is the truth’, is particularly apt here,” she says. “The conflict, with its many actors all occupying opaque roles, has created a space with its own internal logic and landscape.” Thus, she hopes to take the audience “on a journey to a place where truth and lies, reality and fiction have become blurred”.
Indian photographer Arko Datto (b.1986) completed two masters degrees in theoretical physics and mathematics before deciding to take a “leap of faith into photography”. After studying photography at the Danish School of Journalism in Aarhus, his long-term projects have since been published in leading international publications, such as TIME and National Geographic. For PIK-NIK, Datto spent the last five winter seasons photographing picnic spots across eastern India, primarily in West Bengal but also in Jharkhand and Orissa. Here, families and colleagues converge for a day of food, drink and revelry before departing at sunset, leaving piles of rubbish in their wake. “Vats of freshly slaughtered chicken, sacks of vegetables and an arsenal of pots, pans and gas cylinders are lugged along, taking cooking en plein air to a whole new level,” says Datto.
Launched on 11 December, a brand new biannual, Clove, has a refreshing take on art and culture. Founded by London-based, British-Indian journalist Debika Ray, the magazine focuses on creative work from South Asia and its global diaspora. “My impression was always that, in Western media, there was a narrow frame of reference when it came to covering parts of the world beyond North America and Europe,” says Ray, who until recently was senior editor at the architecture and design magazine Icon. “Stories from South Asia or the Middle East are often handled in a distant way, focusing on problems or crises and how people battle against odds to overcome things. I wanted to tell stories from those parts of the world in a way that were instead built on their own merit.”
When New York-based photographer Marc Ohrem-Leclef first travelled to India eight years ago he was struck by the “small, shared moments of intimacy” that he saw men displaying towards one another in public – admiring the openness with which they made what he assumed were public displays of romantic love. “As a gay man, I was quite excited by what I thought was romantic freedom,” he says. “Men would be holding hands or leaning against each other in public. There was a connectivity that I thought was really beautiful.” He quickly learnt that things were not as he had first thought, that the men he saw were not necessarily romantically involved at all and were often just expressing friendship.
The last time we spoke to Vasantha Yogananthan he was preparing to release chapter one of his hugely ambitious seven-part project A Myth of Two Souls. A project that he started in 2013 with his first trip to India, the collection is a photographic re-imagining of one of the most significant Hindu texts, the epic poem Ramayana. Dating back to the 4th century, the Ramayana still holds tremendous significance in India, with its allegorical, mythical stories helping convey concepts such as love, duty, violence, loyalty and divinity. Yogananthan had always been familiar with the Ramayana growing up – his Sri Lankan father told him stories from it during his youth in Grenoble, France, and he picked up comic book adaptations of it as a teenager. But it was only when he visited India that he realised just how interwoven the analogies presented in Ramayana are with the experience of everyday life on the subcontinent, and just how thin the line can be between mythology and reality.
NOOR, the prestigious photo agency and foundation, has signed up three new nominees – Sanne de Wilde, Arko Datto and Leonard Pongo. Hailing from Belgium, India and Belgium/DR Congo respectively, all three are known for their cutting-edge work, rooted in documentary but pushing the aesthetic boundaries of image-making.
The September issue brings the otherwise invisible into sharp focus. Invisible World explores forgotten conflicts, intimate retreats, abused landscapes and remote islands to uncover the hidden realities and unknown societies behind ordinary backdrops. “As social beings, we all demand to be seen,” says Hoda Afshar, whose latest series, Behold, takes us to an exclusive male-only bathhouse. Her point resonates with all the photoseries explored in this issue: how do we negotiate our surroundings, how do we see our societies, how do we interpret our world? We need to first see the invisible to answer these ever salient questions.
While Martin Parr describes photography as “the most accessible, democratic medium available in the world”, the industry that has built up around it has not always followed suit. Often confining itself to intimidating, inaccessible museums, galleries and organisations, photography as an art form doesn’t always interact with the public at large. A new Indian festival, Just Another Photo Festival wants to remedy this, aiming to “democratise photography across the country.” The initiative of photographer Poulomi Basu, Emaho Magazine founder Manik Katyal and British independent filmmaker CJ Clarke, the New Delhi festival will be showcasing 150 photographers from over 35 countries. Work from the likes of Roger Ballen, Philip Toledano and Sim Chi Yin will be displayed in 11 different locations. This guiding idea of expanding the base of photography lovers is being put into action by bringing photography to open, public spaces including malls, universities and even slums. “We’re showing it at a school in a slum,” Katyal says. “They’ve told me they would never imagined that they would get to enjoy photography in this space. We’re …