“Photography has been with me since my school days. It became an obsession. But my photography was no beanstalk. It took time to grow”, that was VS Asokan narrating to fellow members of PSM, the first chapter of his love affair with photography.
Despite being a law graduate, his “soul was always in photography”. So he co-founded ‘The Innovators’, a studio in Chennai to serve the ad industry. Soon the venture developed into a fully accredited Ad agency , ‘Chhaya Advertising Pvt. Ltd.’. "The agency people carry the client’s brand, product and brief in their head", he recalls. Advertising photography is restrictive and has to satisfy the art director, the copywriter and the client.
Asokan regained his artistic freedom by selling off the Agency and plunging into photography for self expression and pleasure. But one visitor to his Bangalore exhibition bought 15 of his frames in one sweep and commissioned him for more, to decorate a prestigious Hotel project in Bangalore. For three months, Asokan got busy shooting, mostly in his backyard.
“Tell me the negatives”, he genuinely challenges the audience, as he presents
his pictures that are also sign posts of a life going strong at 80. The pictures combine an artist’s sense of composition with advertising’s result orientation. The many-layered meanings of his frames are spelt through contrast of shapes, colours, textures and tenses (Past and Present, Today and Tomorrow). Many of his crops are unconventional, revealing a philosopher’s irreverence for convention. He is unafraid of fully saturated colours but can also pull off soft and wistful, out-of-focus compositions. Asokan has shot his amazing pictures with uncomplicated inexpensive cameras, and does not swoon over high-end gear. “I mostly use just one exposure, f/5.6", he says disarmingly, and with a suppressed half chuckle. He has no compunctions about manipulating pictures. Result matters.
“Colour or B&W?”, someone ventures.”Should Pather Panchali have been made in colour, or Lawrence of Arabia in black and white?”, Asokan answers with a question.
The last quote on Asokan’s exquisite photo album is from Confucius: “There is beauty in everything, but not everyone sees it”. Apt for a consummate artist , who effortlessly finds beauty in a dry tree bark and graphic perfection in a tilted orange tower chosen by a bird to sit awhile.
Article Author: Thomas T Abraham