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Backstreet and Beyond: Life Tales from Behind the Lens

Picking an image from among a thousand ones is an art that a photographer would term decisive. Such a decisive moment is akin to safekeeping for time. Decisive by all means, this indeed is. All these thousand and more images open up to anyone who immerse themselves in them. However, they breathe life when the gaze of a shutterbug falls on them, and they effectively translate themselves into works of art. It would, in fact, demand exceptional brilliance to get such moments turn artistic. Here’s where Sudhir Uralath exudes brilliance.

Sudhir_uralathFor Sudhir, the street isn’t just a two-dimensional entity that lies flat and lifeless. It isn’t just about the speeding vehicles, or the skyscrapers that stand tall. For Sudhir, it is the lives that blossom or are felled by the burden they come with, that make every street call for a closer look. Even as he captures these lives in his ‘Scripting the Street’ venture, Sudhir stamps his identity by partaking of the sorrows, joys and all that come with those lives lived on the street, says critic T R Ramesh. When the world runs along the path where the selfie has engraved itself on to new age photography terrain, Sudhir Uralath prefers to travel the other way, he adds.

Sudhir Uralath has had his works published in magazines that get printed from around the world. Apart from his own Malayalam, his works have appeared in periodicals that come out in languages like Thai, Indonesian, Russian, French and Chinese. These apart, Sudhir has already organised shows in five countries including India. Blive catches up with the artist who has made Ningbo in Eastern China his home since quite a while.

Many have preferred to compare your photographs with mesmerizing paintings. How would you like to see them?

Photography isn’t something that rides only a realistic mode. It indeed has a face that could well relate to paintings, or work of art. I try and make use of that mode too when I click my pictures. The fact is that, when you try to blend darkness with light in the most charming manner, it could well take the form of a painting. Such a work of art can show up in different shades and levels. My works are ones that would love to tread on both the mediums.

Though most of your works showcase urban life, they seem to stop short and stay away from the city life that has the crowds as a constant.

I have clicked all my pictures in mega cities such as Bangkok, Taipei, Jakarta Ho Chi Minh City and New Delhi. If you look at them, they are all part of under developed nations. Though all these cities bring with them the possibility of portraying rich, photogenic and posh backdrops and the crowds, I love to skip all these aspects. My works would like to focus more on the ‘under developed’ aspect when I go clicking. By do that, I get to click life.

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Your photographs tend to narrate tales from life. There are frames where man and animal co-exist. It seems like they come with life stories filled to the brim. However, these frames look like telling tales of angst, innocence, solitude and woes.    

The concept of Backstreet dominates my works. I tend to stay off the main pathways. I keep off skyscrapers, and tend to walk up to the backstreet. Interestingly enough, all the backstreets in different countries I have been to, sport a common behaviour. The people there act similar. They all live similar lives. Their stories are similar too. They may look different when you look at them from the fringes. But the people in all these backstreet dwellings share common lives. Once you walk into a crowded street in Taipei or a broadway in Bangkok, you feel a difference. But head for the backstreet in these places, and you realise that lives lived there are more or less the same.  I try to picture the lives here.

Who would you name as the person who has inspired you much?

IMG-20171114-WA0049I have found a liking for Steve McCurry’s style. The colour pattern he has deployed in his photographs clicked with the third world as the backdrop has fascinated me. His works are inspiring.

I don’t think Indian photographers of the older generation have tried out such an aspect. The photographers of the current age have adapted well. However, old timers, of the likes of Raghu Rai, have preferred to click raw life, more than the colours around those lives. However, McCurry has been fascinated by the colours, you can see that in his photographs clicked in India. Our photographers, however, shunned the colors, may be because they were too usual for them. Colors have a mesmerising effect on me. I have this habit of going after colours. But then, that doesn’t mean Steve McCurry is my role model. I have been inspired by many, like Sebastiao Salgado, Bruce Davidson, Raghu Rai, and many others.

Sudhir Uralath has also had a stint with cinema. You have worked with T V Chandran in Paadam Onnu- Oru Vilapam, Vilapangalkkappuram, and Jayaraj in Deivanamathil.

The influence of cinema has been awesome. Being part of the film society movement has added charm to the feel that cinema has gifted me. I love the days when I had gone film festival-hopping.

I have also been fortunate to have made friends with people like Aslu. An awesome soul, Aslu owned a Canon D 50, which did not have to be wound after each click. You just had to keep on clicking. But Aslu was so lazy that he would hand over the camera and disappear. My travels have also inspired me a lot. Travelling, for me, isn’t just a motivating factor, it comes across as the much-needed energy booster. As my eyes are always on the street, travelling has become part of me. Travelling has this unique ability to constantly reinvent my take on life.

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The digital age has dawned, and it has turned out that anyone can make a film. A film can be shot even on a mobile phone.  Is that true with photography too?

Photography isn’t something that everyone can do. Say for instance, I had read somewhere that sex is something anyone can do, but to do it beautifully well is not easy (laughs). If photography means copying an image with the lens in hand, anyone can do it, of course! However, photography involves story-telling, it all depends on how effectively you narrate a tale.   I was drawn towards street photography due to this fact. You get to pick a story from amid a heap of stories on the street. It becomes effective when you are able to decide on which one to pick.

IMG-20171114-WA0050One tends to see contrasting images in your works. Pictures that are born in your camera tend to talk in political terms too…

It is a matter of how you see things. It is natural that my politics stares out of my works. For me, photography is also the way I choose a medium to voice my politics. Deciding on whether to walk to the main street or the backstreet is a matter of choice. I can carry my camera to the malls where life blossoms in air-conditioned spaces.  I can picture life that goes on there. I can also go to the street where the sun beats down on the hapless lives. Though the backdrop is colourful here too, the lives are devoid of any hue. I go in search of these colourless lives. I tend to look for the contradiction and the contrast. Between the lives lived in metro heights and the lowly ones that toil to make both ends meet, contrasting shots are many.