Exposures of an artiste’s soul

With such coveted experiences under her belt, it would be safe to assume Kirthana has found her ground in photography, and has established a distinct style to her work.
Photo | Kirthana Devdas
Photo | Kirthana Devdas

CHENNAI: Walking into the midst of artistes and photography enthusiasts, one gets the sense of a deeply passionate community, connected by the mutual love for capturing memories. This was the atmosphere created at the Chennai Photo Biennale Lighthouse on Saturday at the talk with Kirthana Devdas, a Chennai-based wedding and artistic photographer from Coimbatore.

She received the Sahapedia grant in 2018 for her documentation of Thira, featuring a ritual dance tradition from the Malabar region of south India. Subsequently, she took up an artiste residency in the far flung, frigid location of Husavik in Northern Iceland, and has also had her work displayed at the Angkor Photo Festival in Cambodia.

With such coveted experiences under her belt, it would be safe to assume Kirthana has found her ground in photography, and has established a distinct style to her work. However, she quickly dismissed this notion and said, “I was in my twenties and everything I did back then felt like being done on a whim. I don’t think I have a particular style of photography, that is something the viewer would probably have to identify.”

The conversation drifted to Kirthana’s projects, beginning with her documentation of the thira ritual. Reflecting on her work, she shared, “I started out with a documentary-style approach, and shifted to capture the energy of the place. I wanted to click what happened before and after the event as well, not just during the performance.” The audience mused upon how the dark background of the images, thira being a nighttime performance, helped the streaks of light leaks standout in the artiste’s images, enhancing the mood of her art.

Photos: Kirthana Devdas
Photos: Kirthana Devdas

The talk then pivoted to a discussion of Kirthana’s residency in Husavik, as she displayed snapshots from a project titled ‘The Lost Glove is Happy’. This title was inspired by the encounter of three gloves on a table. “At that point when I saw those gloves, I kept wondering where the fourth glove was. And that’s where the title came from. Believing that the fourth glove was lost, yet happy in the world.” The audience was encouraged to share their thoughts on the pictures that depicted bleak white stretches expanding into the horizon, to which it was remarked that the photographs elicited an unsettling sense of nothingness.

Considering the desolation of Husavik, Kirthana was asked how she managed to remain creatively active in a place that was almost devoid of life. She shared, “The emptiness definitely felt unnerving and took some time getting used to, as it was foreign from anything I had experienced before. We were locked in due to a snowstorm for days so when I could finally go out, I went and got these shots alone at 1.00 am, which definitely felt freeing. Going out at that hour alone in India would be unthinkable for me but it didn’t feel like that there.”

The discussion then shifted to her work in Cambodia, and later, the effect of the pandemic upon her art. The two experiences immensely contrast each other, as one is marked by the frenzied energy of living in a foreign place, and the other is shadowed by a secluded existence under lockdown. Yet in both situations, she kept herself afloat by clutching to her camera; snapping away in the animated beauty salons of Sok San Road in 2018, then capturing moments of stillness at home in 2022.

As dusk fell, the talk meandered its way to an end, with Kirthana reviewing her journey thus far. She went back to her work on Thira and confessed, “I don’t think I’ve closed the door on this project yet, it’s still at a nascent stage. I’m still in the thick of it, it’s definitely not culminated. I think it’s a chapter of something much larger.”

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The New Indian Express