December 1, 2014
“Photography helps me grab hold of this huge, invisible universe and share it with others”, Madhavan Palanisamy or Maddy, writes as the opening line in the ‘About’ section of his website. Reading a little further, he says, “I love to explore the world that opens up the moment we want to see something beyond what is presented to the naked eye.” This is evident in his work, which is natural, uninhibited and emotive.
Maddy is a Biochemistry graduate with a Masters in Business Management. He is also a talented photographer and filmmaker, based in Chennai.
Maddy’s photographs have a humane appeal, where it seems like the people he captures open up to him with their stories, rather than posing to look a certain way in a perfect picture or being obviously candid. When asked if what he studied had any influence on his work, he says, “Management did to a certain extent because I understood how brands were built using insights. And how images conveyed emotion and moved people to act: engage, reflect and of course buy into the brand’s idea.”
Along with Radha Rathi (whom we had also interviewed earlier), he is the co-founder of Magic Bus, “an imaging and design collaborative which produces design, photography and films and often collaborates with other artists to produce it.”
Recently, he finished working on a few web films for Fastrack, working alongside their digital team at 22ftTribal. Among other things, he is also working on his second doodle book called ‘vulnerable drawings’, before he takes off for a month to shoot portraits across the country.
Intrigued by his work, we spoke to him about what drives him and how he manages to speak without words. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Are there any projects or achievements that you’re proud of? Can you tell us more about them?
Nothing specifically: but I am happy about these – I moved from advertising to restart my life with photography and films. I am glad it worked out. With work, lately a lot of people are able to understand my aesthetic and therefore want to collaborate or commission – and that’s great! All that I do is self-learnt and that’s nice because you organically develop your eyes based on certain limitlessness.
I have shot CSK (Chennai Super Kings) – all seasons – collaborating with their agency, OPN. We did ‘whistle podu’ which was so low-key and became a sensation. We have done portraits of the players that were very different from other teams.
Have you ever faced a creative block? How do you overcome it?
Of course, [I have]. It happens when I am too scattered. So first I try to sit down at my desk and zone in. Do random things like draw, read, organise. Sometimes I clean my wardrobe or sort my shoes. It helps to move away from all the visual stimuli and do some handwork. After that, miraculously, when I am watching a movie or driving to some place, the idea will find me.
Whose work inspires you the most?
Filmmakers: My dad used to take me to screenings of classics when I was young: that is a huge influence. Movies like Gold Rush, Great Dictator, Modern Times – by Charlie Chaplin. Seven Samurai, Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, Pather Panchali and World of Appu by Satyajit Ray. Persona, Seventh Seal by Bergman, 8 1/2 by Fellini, Bicycle Thief by Vittorio Di Sica etc.
Some of these movies were not for young adults – so I didn’t understand the layers but what impacted was the power of these visuals. The grain and density of film and emotion. Later when I grew up I used to take all the award-winning movies from the local VHS libraries and watch them. Mani Ratnam was a big inspiration. Then a lot of world cinema and the works of Wong Kor Wai, Guillermo Del Toro, Innaritu, Nolan, Aronofsky, Fatih Akin, Kim Ki Duk, Abbas Kirastostami, Fincher, David Lynch and many other.
Photographers: In no particular order: Prabuddha Dasgupta, Nadav Kander, Dayanita Singh, Polly Borland, Annie Leibovitz, Tim Walker, Bharat Sikka, John Clang, Juergen Teller, Nick Knight, Rinko Kawauchi, Viviane Sassen, Daido Moriyama.
What camera or equipment do you use, or prefer using the most, for your work?
I use Nikon D800 and D700. For specific assignments I use Hasselblad. I also have a small retro looking Olympus P2 that is great for snapshots.
‘ Kalamkari’ – the documentary
Are there any themes in your work or subjects that you like working on? For instance, in ‘Aish–making–of’, ‘Artisans of Kolkata’, ‘Kalamkari’ and some others.
I like to do work that is meaningful or fun – and most of the times, a mix of both! I try to make it relevant to me to see why I should be interested in an assignment at a given point of time. I believe that most of the stories we tell are really about who we are, on the inside and ourselves.
The photograph is of the subject but the image is made of the photographer and the subject. I like to bring out the strength of their humanity or sometimes the darkness in them. Having said that, I don’t go behind ‘social awareness’ but the possibility of expressing that creatively.
Which is more challenging – commissioned work or a personal project?
Commercial work is logistically challenging because you are creating something that involves other collaborators, models, art directors and clients. You have to make people buy into what you are making and be open to ideas. Personal work – you are constrained by resources. Also sometimes you tend to be lazy around your own work so you have to keep yourself motivated and disciplined all the time.
A project that’s close to your heart:
[These] are sort of lonely pictures that convey the fight between innocence and responsibility. This project was shot over 20 months using my son’s toys – soon after I had quit adverting and wanted to become a photographer. I was confused and wondered if I would be able to make it [and] it directly reflected in the scenarios I had staged.
About Chennai Remix:
Any city is multi-layered. These are some scenes that bring alive the quirkiness and colors of Chennai with a little help from Photoshop. This project was shown at Apparao Gallery.
When I started out, I used to carry my camera everywhere I went. Very soon I had a bank of pictures of Chennai. They were ultra-colourful but they looked like any other candid set of pics of Chennai. I figured that I missed the experience of different things coming together in those images and wanted to make the images multi-layered, cinematic and illogical.
About India Cements Art: India Cements Art: It was done in collaboration with OPN, their agency, as art for their new office. The project combined elements of landscape and portrait photography and was treated as a fine art project. I wanted to shoot these pictures and give it a meditative/contemplative quality.
If you are just as fascinated by his work as we were, check out Madhavan’s website for more.
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