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Exploring every angle

PRIYADARSSHINI SHARMA

Abul Kalam Azad's work is an ode to eminent Malayalis who have left their mark in various fields.

PHOTO: H. VIBHU

IMAGES GALORE: According to Abul Kalam Azad, photography is not what you see but how you look at your subject.

When he started clicking pictures for a wedding album 25 years ago, little did photographer Abul Kalam Azad realise that he would spend the next quarter of a century experimenting with the lens.

Today, after exploring it from every angle - from positives on real silver paper to repurposing images digitally - he is in the process of developing an exhibition that is a eulogy to every Malayali. Despite travelling the length and breadth of the country as a photojournalist, covering riots, political rallies, and personalities, at heart, Azad remains the man from Mattancherry, Kochi.

Despite international exposure drawn from the streets and studios of Paris and from the cafeterias of Covent Garden, London, the content of his work has surprisingly remained local. And so the images strike a chord in each of us.

His family album of sepia-tinted photographs form the basis of this work as images from it move on to a large scale, reworked digitally and in serigraphy.

Kerala history and culture are resurrected in modern tones. Kumaran Asan, Narayana Guru, Natraja Guru, comrade G. Krishna Pillai, MGR, AKG, Rajan, `my Mamma' Zainabaa, T.K. Pareekutty, the unforgettable Mattancherry voice, Mehboob, and beautiful Sheela as Karuthamma are some of the images in his collection called `Untouchables.'

Modern metaphor

"They are untouchables in the context of their stature, their achievements," explains Azad. And so these documents, as he calls the pictures, hold timeless images dressed in modern metaphor.

"All modern art is now based on photographs. Pixels, dots and graphic images are all part of it. Pop Art is a language for me, an idiom for my images. The effect is for familiarity but these images have stirred me since my childhood, " says the shutterbug who has used pop art to great effect.

Photography to him is not what you see but how you look at your subject. Azad's treatment does not stop with this sifting of photos but rather begins with it. He works on the chosen images, enriching them several layers with stencil, lithography, print, dye transfers and even impinging images on retro cloth.

"You have to see an image thoughtfully. To begin with, you must have an eye," he says.

Azad's work has been influenced by the works of Sunil Janah, Ram Rehman, Sheeba Chachi and the renowned Joel Peter Witkin and Henri Cartier Bresson.

Inspired by India

"The art fraternity in India is always looking outwards. They are sitting somewhere in the Mediterranean but for me the images are all here. Can anything be more surrealist than the Ganesha, a human body with an elephant head or Saraswati, a woman sitting atop a lotus?" he asks taking a shot at the need for Indian artistes to heavily borrow concepts and ideas from the West.

"Photography is a technique like painting. But it has a new reality now. The use of computer in photography has made the canvas bigger. It's an old tool in a modern context."

And Abul Kalam Azad shows one how this very old tool is used ever so interestingly in a very modern way.

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