KOCHI: It’s not easy outlining the anatomy of fear - its eerie depths, tonal variations and ambivalent forms. But Shaju Subramanian attempts exactly that, conjuring an unsettling aesthetics out of bare flesh. The whole expanse of male body becomes his tool, autonomous and eloquent, as he initiates a dialogue on fear and freedom. A contorted torso, a carefree repose, a face emerging out of the tonal play - they all invite you for a closer inspection, to pierce through the skin and find what lies beneath. “My primary subject is man and his anguish, all my visual expressions stem from that core,” says the photographer.
‘Fear and Freedom’ and ‘Cogwheels’, his photo anthologies displayed at Vyloppilli Samskriti Bhavan, create an iconography burning with anxiety, trauma, alienation and collective guilt. You find impressions of physical and emotional unrest in some, while others turn into narratives of defiance and dignity. “Freedom has many dimensions, but for some it’s not accessible in any form. And when you live a busy, mechanical life you don’t have a chance to reflect on the ramifications of fear and freedom,” he says.
Fear and Freedom celebrates the underrated magnificence of male body, but Shaju says he has used it more like an organic apparatus oozing pain.
“Using a male body doesn’t have any gender-specific significance. Body, as a symbol, alludes to much more,” he adds. There is a stark abstract edge to many of his frames and the lensman considers its an instinctive outcome. “It’s a series that evolved on its own. It’s not a preplanned or conscious effort, rather a development triggered by the very process,” he says.
Cogwheels, the second series, tries to record the ordeal of migrant labourers. “They are spread across India, a never-ending activity that involves displacement and alienation. I have tried to capture its reality through my medium,” he says. Whether it’s the rugged features of an old lady or a kid staring into the camera, his eyes limpid pools of innocence, the works in this series have an evident representational quality. “You can treat your subject in myriad ways. In Cogwheels I have opted for documentary photography and they were clicked during travels,” he says.
Shaju agrees he has tried to explore the possibilities of fine arts in his works, giving them a more subjective and intimate quality. “You develop your visual language through your social interaction. Fear and Freedom is done on Fuji colour negative, but I don’t think the medium should be your first concern. In the sea of digital images what defines your work is ‘why’ not ‘how’,” he says. The exhibition is on till August 9.