BENGALURU: If all was well, Shivaraju B S, popularly known as Cop Shiva, would have been in Finland, showcasing his photographs at the Helsinki Photo Festival. But three months ago, when he was intimated that he was one among the 40 photographers whose works would be on display, he thought he would wait it out, hoping that things would return to normal. “It would have been a big opportunity, especially since I’m the only one from India to be selected,” he says about the show that is scheduled to start from July 7 where 12 of his images will be on display.
The theme of Shiva’s work is ‘Street As Studio’ where he captures the life and dreams of migrants. Ironically, Shiva says, these workers who moved to Bengaluru in pursuit of a better livelihood, were always in the background. “It’s only now that they have come into focus in times of corona,” says Shiva, who decided to move back to his village, Bannikuppe, last year, wanting to be closer home. “As a police constable and migrant, I related to the struggle of other migrants, struggling to survive in the hope of living the big-city dream.
After 22 years, I decided I wanted to come back and spend time with my mother,” says Shiva who is now working on a photography project on re-imagining his childhood, and works out of his studio which he recently built at home. Shiva recalls how the city’s civic agency wanted to showcase Bengaluru as another Singapore, and commissioned banner painters to make murals across the city in 2008. “I had come across this during my duty, and it stuck on with me. While I personally connect with murals, I have also been interested in Indian studio photography tradition. That has almost disappeared in India, but I decided to turn the street into my studio,” says the former policeman who has been pursuing photography full time for three years.
Shiva identifies with his subjects – people chasing a livelihood. “It was all a daze, with the morning rush to get to the police station, and evenings busy with my artistic pursuits,” says Shiva. His interest in the arts started around 2007 when he was the coordinator of the art space and residency 1Shanthiroad, during which he managed over 100 exhibitions and events. In 2010, he decided he wanted to create his own work, and started juggling his full-time job and then hobby. “But that was getting hard, and I decided to choose this life over that,” says Shiva who has never looked back since.
Over the years, Shiva has documented the complexity of rural and urban India, focusing on people and portraiture, having been fascinated with the “idea of masquerade and the roles people play in public and private”. “My portfolio includes intimate portraits of urban migrants, people of alternative sexuality, street performers and others living in the hinterland of urban and rural conflict. I capture the diversity of humans who live on the edge and represent the spirit of our times,” says Shiva whose works have been part of shows such as Chobi Mela in Bangladesh and the Kochi Biennale. He is also the recipient of 2017 grant of Prohelvetia-Switzerland and Swedish Art Council and 2016 finalist for the Harvard University Peabody Museum Robert Gardner Fellowship of Photography.