portraits and construction

a few random shots from james’ and my last photo walk, in pallavaram (near the airport): first, the portraits.

as we crossed the railroad tracks at pallavaram and made our way deep into the village, a few drunk guys accosted us and asked for photos. (the second guy was a tea wallah, not one of the drunk guys.) the kid was someone we met on the train platform. he was fascinated by my olympus om-d, particularly the feature that allows you to scroll through the photos by swiping your finger across the screen. finally, we found a bunch of schoolchildren who invited us into their school to take pictures.

next, the stop at the construction site:

james looked at his photo and said something to the effect of, “we’re pretty conspicuous, aren’t we.” yes, we are.  this wasn’t exactly the sebastião salgado moment i was looking for.

arubathimoovar festival day 2

we went back the next day for the main procession, of lord shiva and the 63 saints. the streets were not as crazily packed as they were the day before, but the area in front of the temple, which had been enclosed for the occasion, was fully jammed with worshippers. oddly, the event wasn’t as grand as the celebration of the day before, but i think it had more religious significance.

i saw a group of kids in the chariot from yesterday, so of course i had to climb up as well and take a look. i don’t know if there is a three-story shed somewhere or if they dismantle the chariot after the festival. right: two priests handing out ashes for marking the foreheads with the sign of shiva.
a temple band (horns and drum) play and the sun shines appropriately through the roof as the chariot with the statue of lord shiva wheels into place. (i’m sorry for having used such a shallow depth of field in the first photo.) right: devotees carry the first palanquin of saints’ statues out to the street. how often do you see the word “palanquin” these days?
you can see that the saints are riding backward in their palanquins, so they can gaze on lord shiva who comes afterward. right: the procession went out onto the street, where i again found the rolling beggar from the day before.

arubathimoovar festival

today, my friend and fellow tirupati traveler james and i went to kapaleeswarar temple to see the arubathimoovar festival. arubathimoovar celebrates 63 saints who were canonized for their devotion to lord shiva, and the highlight of the festival is the parade of temple chariots, each of which carries a statue of a saint through the streets.

one of the first things we encountered was a group of beggars who roll themselves through the streets, chanting, blocking traffic, and begging for alms. as the middle shot shows (and i’m only including it as evidence, not because it’s a particularly good shot), they aren’t in such bad shape for rolling themselves four or five blocks in the procession with the chariots; i have to believe this isn’t their first rodeo, so to speak. the chariots themselves are pulled along by devotees while priests distribute holy ashes and other blessings …

… that is, until the chariot carrying shiva pulls into view. this was a much more serious affair, about two stories tall, with more than a hundred guys pushing and pulling it and thousands thronged around it.

the ropes used to pull the chariot, and the crowds pushing, pulling, or following it, were massive.

a very late story about art chennai 2012

while chennai has a strong tradition of carnatic music and kathakali dance, the city is not known for its support of the visual arts.  a local businessman/art collector began an art festival last year, to bring the visual arts to a wider public. i attended the photography group show and made contact with the curator so that i could be volunteer to support this year’s show (and possibly get a few works in myself). my gambit worked, although the theme of the group show was such that i wasn’t happy with the pieces they selected for it; however, i was more successful with the “chennai 24/7” public art project that opened the same day in one of the larger suburban line train stations.

chennai’s metropolitan rapid transit system (mrts) had its roots in the suburban lines of the 1930s, but the system in its current incarnation was completed only in 1997. many of the stations are behemoths of concrete stretching a city block; three stories tall, they were designed (it is said) to house shops and offices, but those plans never came to fruition, and they were left empty instead. over the years, the stations have accumulated layers of grime and dust; the stairwells reek of urine, the bases of the walls are caked with betel juice spit, and one can find the occasional condom or (as is rumored to have happened) a dead body in one of the dark corridors that dead-ends into a locked door or stairwell to nowhere. even with all that, however, they have fantastic interior spaces for showing public art.

with the help of the goethe institute, we got mrts to agree to turn six stations into public art galleries for the week of art chennai 2012.  (over the month, this number was reduced to one.) photographers from across the city were invited to submit photos of chennai taken during a specific week, and then we went through the over 1,100 submissions and made a selection of 130 which we printed on flex vinyl so they could withstand public handling. the mrts staff swept the floors and repainted the walls for perhaps the first time in a decade, and we contracted with local crews to paste the photos on the walls. i won’t go into all the snafu’s here; i’ll only say that the job, which the contractor promised would be done in two days, took five and only was finished the morning of the opening.

scenes from the installation, and the results. at each spot where photos were to be pasted, the guys would assemble scaffolding from bamboo poles, climb up, and attach the flex, after which they’d climb down, untie the poles, and move them to the next spot. to be fair, the guys who did show up worked late into the night to get the job done.

abby took photos of the opening and of my six works.