For stories from Kayal

Inheritors of the Earth

by Bara Bhaskaran

ESSAY

May 28, 2015

'Kanian Astrologers'
Travancore History (1910-1924) by Padmanabha Menon; photographer unknown.

Photography entered India in the first decade of its invention (1827-1837), thanks to European travellers with a penchant for documentation. Prior to the advent of the photographs, travellers had no option but to depend on artists for images that would accompany their narration.

Places and people, plants and medicines, spices, constructs, forts, rivers and landscapes, everything had to be rendered true-to-life by the artist. Though some of these images were realistic, one could say that artistic realism discovered itself after still photography became popular. India began to get photographed widely between 1830 and 1850 at the hands of "official European travellers".

These travellers documented commoners, tribes, places and fauna of India with the same interest they had while recording the images of its kings, chieftains, palaces and members of royal families. European 'companies' soon found that these pictographic studies and classifications could be put to use.

'A Vala Marriage Party'
Travancore History (1910-1924) by Padmanabha Menon; photographer unknown.

Photography was widely used as tool to collect information in South India, especially the region of Kerala. Nagam Ayya who authored the Travancore State Manual and K P Padmanabha Menon, credited with writing the most comprehensive history of Travancore, mined these photographs to contextualise and interpret the period.

Cameras zoomed in on the lives of people in Kerala, classifying them on the basis of caste. The communities of carpenters, bell-metal workers, blacksmiths, nairs, nampoothiris, tribes and slaves were recorded along with their places of dwelling. The photographs of tribals in Wayanad were first printed in the book 'Vayanad' published in 1911 (Gopalan Nair, Sub-collector, Malabar). The visual documents were utilised in a social studies perspective in the first edition of Travancore History (1910-1924) by Padmanabha Menon. Sources of these photographs are likely to be "official European travellers".

'A Namputhari boy after Upanayanam'
Travancore History (1910-1924) by Padmanabha Menon; photographer unknown.

The photographs in this collection comprise images documented between 1870 and 1920 and sheds light into the chequered history of Kerala. I am sure that these photographs would keep on delivering deeper insights that concern the anthropology and social life style of the period. This series titled 'Inheritors of the Earth' is also an attempt to anthologise the 'vision' of those who walked before us.

This photo series is currently on display at Kayal.

Bara Bhaskaran

Bara Bhaskaran is a contemporary artist and a celebrated writer. He has been a part of several national and international art exhibitions including a Group show by 12 Indian artists called 'Everything' curated by Bose Krishnamachari held at Amsterdam in 2008. Some of his famous writings are Ente Keralam Rekhakal (My Keralam Chronicles) a visual travelogue, Mother Forest: The unfinished story of C.K. Janu, a biography of tribal leader C.K. Janu and Adukkala, a series of illustrated writings on kitchens and the cuisine of Kerala.

He currently works out of a studio in Kochi.

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