Life is indeed small...

Life is indeed small...

Macro impact

Life is indeed small...

Macrophotography unravels the mesmerising beauty of the microscopic world, throwing up a new perspective on tiny life forms, writes hema vijay, after a tete-e-tete with renowned macro-photographer Poochi Venkat.

Seen up close, it is not just humanoid appearances that sometimes turn out to be deceptive. Insects, for instance. Who would dub spiders as beautiful? Or describe a lump of sugar as a sublime revelation of light and geometry? Well, macrophotography can have this effect.

Thanks to technology, the mesmerising beauty of the microscopic world is now being unravelled by macro-photographers and inroads made into a mysterious and secretive world that only microbiologists and scientists were privy to, earlier.

Now, non-academic macrophotography is throwing up a new perspective on tiny life forms as well as inanimate stuff that never catch our eye normally. Or, inanimate stuff that our eyes never catch, to be factually correct. Like the undulating texture of the threads of a fabric or the exquisite glint of individual crystals of sugar.

It might seem contradictory to fractal philosophy, but here it is; the macro view of microscopic stuff unfolds a reality that is sometimes far different from what the naked eye perceived or the indoctrinated mind expects. So it is that these 60 macro-photographs make for an aesthetic and intellectual revelation.

Weary urban eyes in Chennai got to feast on macro-photographs varying in size from 12x18 inches to 24x36 inches and with their minute subjects blown up several folds, thanks to ‘Macro Art’ curated by macro-photographer S Venkatraman aka Poochi Venkat, known so because of his obsession with insects (poochi in Tamil language).

So then, what is macrophotography? Does it simply equate to a close-up shot? Or a zoomed-in shot? “True macro is a photograph with life size (termed 1:1 magnification) that the lens magnifies several fold and projects on to the film plane, though what you see in the camera’s view finder is just life size,” explains Venkat.

Technique of aesthetics

While macro or close-up photography is a growing rage abroad, it is still in its infancy in the country, and certainly not bracketed under fine arts, so far. But, just like photography breaking into the realm of art many decades ago, macrophotography is making the same journey now.

Artists like R M Palaniappan, S Nandagopal and M Senathipathy have responded favourably to these photographs which make a leap from scientific observation to artistic perception.

Veteran Cholamandal artist K V Haridasan comments, “The images are exceptional, brilliant, and enjoyable.” In fact, a remark by Haridasan about his own paintings had made a deep impression on Venkat, earlier on. When quizzed about how people reacted to his esoteric and mystical art, Haridasan had quipped.

“My art is not for analysis. How does it make you feel — that is the point.” Venkat says, “I want my photographs to evoke that kind of a response — artistic, rather than intellectual or technocratic.”

Thanks to rapid advances in sensor technology, even point and shoot digital cameras of the day come with a ‘macro’ option, and do produce good results. And then of course, there is a mind-boggling range of specific macro equipment available.

Science and art

Venkat remarks, “Everybody is becoming a technical expert now, but I want to bring in the natural element that celebrates nature, rather than technique.”

When pressed on technique, he does say this — “Earlier, I had used ring flashes, but it brought with it the disadvantage of flatness.

Now, I employ a special technique. I shoot pictures in sequences, and split the equipment and hold it in different positions. Standing in awkward positions and holding different devices in both hands and still not lose your subject or your balance, is the challenging aspect in this.” Venkat himself shoots with a Nikon D 700, which he says is a wonderful camera, even though it offers a resolution of just 12 mega pixels.

Labelling is conspicuously absent in this collection of photographs. There are no texts about the subjects featured in the photographs, or the equipment or technique employed. Venkat muses, “When does photography become art?

And when does macrophotography become macro art? For macrophotography to be accepted in mainstream photography is one thing. For it to transcend from science to art is quite another. And this is what I would like to showcase.” As for this show, Venkat has tried innovative techniques in both photographing these “things” and preparing the images for printing. “It was like going back to the darkroom.

A few of these photographs are from 18-year-old negatives that I’ve managed to restore digitally. This was a challenge in itself. I want everyone to revel in the art of the unseen... in an exhibition of pictures that open up an entirely new world. From bugs to buttons. Life is small... Art is big.”

From sound to pixels

For great macrophotography, equipment and technique are not really that crucial, apparently. “You don’t even need an SLR camera. Once you understand framing and composition of an image, the picture looks great automatically,” Venkat says. 

He adds, “This is why my students learn most of what I have to teach them in the first day itself. I ask them to leave behind their expensive SLR cameras and stick to point and shoot cameras. I ask them to explore and choose the most interesting and evocative frame, perspective and composition of images,” mentions Venkat, whose macrophotography workshops have inspired many people to take it up in their own diverse niches.

For instance, Sharanya, a student who attended Venkat’s workshops, went on to spend three years doing a research thesis on insects.

Ironically, macrophotography is something that this former sound engineer got into by accident, when a dentist friend asked him to photograph macro images of his patients’ teeth! “Back then, I suspect the only reason I got his assignment was because I was someone who could look at people’s teeth — rotten or otherwise, without feeling queasy,” says a grinning Venkat.

Following this, this photographer got an assignment from the Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems to chronicle the spiders of South India. This got Venkat to wander around obscure villages and forests, to zoom in on shy spiders.

“This is how I learned the art of spotting insects — which are all too often invisible to the urban eye,” he says. This is also when the insect bug bit him and he turned into something of an insect ambassador, getting urban folk to shed their aversion to insects through his numerous poochi workshops.

An environmentalist at heart, Venkat mentions, “Without insects, mankind would be lost and the ecosystem would collapse. As it is, we are losing insect diversity at a frightening pace. And yet, only an elephant or a tiger is considered an endangered species worth saving.” By bringing myriad and beautiful insects up close in high magnification through macro-photographs, this art show is also Venkat’s way of waving a red flag to our collective conscience.

But nevertheless, Macro Art is not just about insects, not even about micro objects by themselves. It is about perception, visual framing and getting aware about the subtle beauty that lies all around.

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