Of sea and fishermen

Of sea and fishermen

The first time Ravi Agarwal went out on the sea was on a very small and flat catamaran. He was sitting on it, balancing, with his camera and with no support. There was just the flat boat between the deep sea and him. “It was scary since after some distance, while the gently heaving sea seemed deceptively calm, it was not. I could swim in a swimming pool, but that was very different, ” he recollects. At that particular moment he felt vulnerable and realised how the vastness of the sea can be overwhelming.

This interaction of his with the sea forms the basis of ‘Else, All Will Be Still’, his upcoming solo show of photographs and videos in which he explores man-nature relationship. This journey began two years ago when he went to a fishing village in Puducherry where fishermen helped him navigate the sea. “I went with imagined ideas of the sea and fishermen. I encountered the power of the ocean and the fishermen’s relationship with it. The equation reversed. Every idea I had, changed, and as did everything I thought I knew about. I became a student and a seeker. From knowing it became an exploration,” photographer and environmentalist Agarwal tells Metrolife.

He feels that in the continuous conflict between man and nature, voice of communities like small fishermen and forest dwellers is disappearing. Through this exhibition, he hopes to initiate a discourse on the lives of small fisher folk and “also of our fundamental relationship with nature”.

“Fishermen, especially the smaller ones, for whom fishing is a livelihood and not a business, are like the small artisans and small farmers. When they cannot access or afford technology they cannot survive in today’s time and they have no future,” he says.

“They do not want their children to be fishermen. Also changes along the coastline such as those caused by ports which erode their fishing beaches and make it impossible for them to launch their boats and go fishing. Their livelihoods are under threat. Changes they have no control over, are impacting their lives,” he adds.

Agarwal documented all these changes through the narratives of Selvam, a small-scale fisherman, who is determined to wean away his children from the non-rewarding profession of fishing. In one of the videos titled Shoreline, one can see Selvam engaged in his daily chore, with his strong, silent face restrained, but he refuses to speak about his desperate circumstances.

“The coast has been ignored in mainstream thinking, even though there has been a long struggle for protecting coastal zones and communities and their livelihoods,” he says. The exhibition will be shown at Gallery Espace from April 8 till May 7.

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