On day 2 of the J.C. Anthony Colloquium on Dalit Aesthetics, we listened to photographer Jaisingh Nageswaran.
Read Austin Paul and Anunaya Narayan’s account of the session.
Jaisingh Nageswaran is a self-taught photographer from Madurai, Tamil Nadu. His work focuses on documenting India’s socially vulnerable populations, rural challenges, and his own family. He is one among the eleven photographers from across the world who have been chosen as Photography and Social Justice Fellows for 2021 by the US-based Magnum Foundation, a nonprofit organisation for documentary photography.
In every corner of a busy street one can always see someone posing and clicking pictures. So whenever a person comes to me and says that they are a photographer, I wouldn’t know how to react. I would have very silly questions like, isn’t photography just clicking photos. This changed after hearing Mr Jaisingh Nageswaran talk about his journey as a photographer.
When the session began, I had heard the emcee say that Mr Jaisingh self-learned the art of photography and that his works focused on documenting India’s socially vulnerable populations. Apart from this introduction, something that gave me an impression about the speaker was seeing a photo he had taken which was displayed on screen. It was the photo of a kid swimming in water with his head submerged and droplets of water being splashed across the frame. This photo was very raw and showed a very beautiful side of nature.
This was followed by an introduction by Professor Vijeta Kumar. Prof Vijeta said that “his photographs follow inside to his world”. What she said felt like deja vu. The photographs of Mr Jaisingh did indeed “follow inside to his world”. An interesting idea behind one of his recent photos involved a fish tank and it referred to how life during lockdown was kind of like being trapped in a fish tank”.
An interesting thing I picked up during the session was despite having taken many photographs with unique stories behind it, Mr Jaisingh says that “all of my works are a thread to my childhood experience”. He also told us how he realized he was dyslexic by watching the movie Taare Zameen Par.
Mr Jaisingh then gave the audience an overview into the time of the coronavirus pandemic. He said that since the outside world was shut down, his camera turned to himself, his family and his home. He told the audience how it was a way of reconnecting with his childhood and narrated stories of having taught himself swimming lessons at the Mullai Periyar river and how it taught him that everyone has a talent and the only thing to do was look for it. He said his camera helped him revisit childhood and helped him forget the darker memories he associated with his childhood.
His understanding of photography is a way of expressing grief over many of his issues starting from childhood. Once when he got into college he learned how government propaganda was being spread through media and wanted to find a place in the society. Later, during a master’s degree in journalism, he invested in a Nikon FM 10 camera which he later used for one his projects at Narmada. At the end of the session, there was a question and answer session starting with Prof. Vijayashanthi Murthy. When asked how he makes people look comfortable in his photos, Mr Jaisingh narrated how the first step is to make himself invisible. He observes. Understands. Spends time with the people. Makes them comfortable and once at ease requests them for permission to take their natural photos without being an intrusion to them.
He also spoke about the majority of his photos being that of skies and water. He spoke about how the sky calms him down and makes him feel at one with nature. He spoke of how water takes him back to his childhood and also allows him to forget his troubles. He also narrated quotes by BR Ambedkar and talked about how nature does not discriminate and makes him feel welcomed and loved, unlike the society that gives labels to people.