Reframed: North Chennai through the lens of young residents

A photography exhibition held on February 4th and 5th at Folly, Amethyst.

The exhibition titled Reframed: North Chennai through the lens of young residents showcases the work of six young photographers who are residents of the northern region of Chennai. The young photographers were supervised under the guidance of celebrated photographer M. Palani Kumar. Palani Kumar himself is a renowned photographer who is associated with People’s Archive of Rural India and has also worked in the capacity of a cameraperson on film Kakoos, a film on manual scavenging.

Through the exhibition, the photographers are trying to highlight the various environmental and social issues that northern Chennai has been subjected to, which includes the subject of high concentration of polluted air and the establishment of toxic industries.

In recent years, the repercussions of these ecological imbalances have started to reflect on the health of the general public, especially children and young adults. To highlight the sense of growing anxieties among the public as well as the concerns of climatic and environmental changes the six selected residents of the region take to photography to understand and document the various narratives of work, joy and mourning from their native place.

The six photographers range between the ages of 14 to 22 and bring fresh perspectives on the issue. Their voices were honed and magnified under the guidance of Palani Kumar who was inspired by the enthusiasm of the younger generation of photographers. In July 2021, the project was initiated by Palani Kumar where each photographer was provided with a camera and brief training in the basics of photography. The initial training helped students understand how to merge their thematic ideas with multiple techniques of photography.

Working with cameras since July 2021, the showcasing photographers were able to undertake the photography project that allowed them to develop a relationship with their subjects and plan what their projects would look like. One of the participating photographers, Mohammad Adhil shares that while documenting a factory site, photography helped him interact with the factory workers present at the site. Through the process of portrait making he was able to have a meaningful interaction with the workers and build an understanding of their lives and struggles.

Photographed by Mohammad Adhil, Age 14.

Working on sites like Pulianthope where environmental changes have given way to issues of flooding, photographer Logeshwaran reflects on the challenges faced while undertaking the project. Logeshwaran shares his experiences of taking images in flood-affected areas, which were proved challenging since there were occasions where he had to spend three days without electricity and limited food supplies. While photographing the sites, he would often have to walk in shoulder-deep flood water, keeping his toes high and covering his mouth to stop water from getting in the mouth. Spending time photographing these sites and experiencing various challenges faced by the people living at the site helped him gather a better understanding of his subject which in turn strengthened his photographic work.

Photographed by Logeshwaran, Age 22.

Photographed by Noor Nisha, Age 16.

While reflecting on the various environmental degradations in northern Chennai, some photographers wanted to juxtapose the issue with the presence of persisting beauty in the natural landscape of the region. Photographer Noor Nisha explored the natural landscape of Northern Chennai at sites like Palaverkaadu, Karungaali and Alayathikaadu. Through her photographs, she throws light on how northern Chennai has gained a reputation of being overpopulated, and while the reputation might have been rightly earned it overshadows its hidden natural landscape that offers respite in the area. These sites are not much known to the residents of the city or even to the people of northern Chennai. By bringing the presence of these landscapes in her work, Noor Nisha is bringing back to the surface the knowledge of the beauty present in the region.

Through the works that are being showcased in the exhibition Reframed: North Chennai through the lens of young residents, the audiences experience an understanding of northern Chennai in which the hidden degradation and its effect on people are brought forward but alongside the enduring spirit of people and celebrating of people’s lifestyles, their culture and the beauty that persists against all odds.

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