‘Neydhal’ – When a photographer sees coastal life through his lens of empathy

The coastal region and the life without colours was the stepping stone for Vetrivel’s photographic project, which he named Neydhal. Photo: Vetrivel/Special arrangement

Neydhal (The Coast), an exhibition of photographs by Vetrivel, an upcoming photographer from Chennai, reflects the life along the coastline and the landscape as well as the seascape of Tamil Nadu.

The expo, which is on at Hallegua Hall - Palette People Gallery & Artists’ Studio in Mattancherry, Kochi, has been attracting viewers with the intensity the young photographer could infuse into his subjects.

The people living in the Neydhal are literally weaving life but it is always porous like the net which forms the basis of their existence and survival. The region and the life without colours was the stepping stone for Vetri’s photographic project, which he named Neydhal.

These works can be broadly divided into three segments: Landscapes, Seascapes and Portraits. However, they are mutually related.

While capturing Neydhal landscapes, he was not drawn to the colour and charm of the places he walked around, says Vetri. He sees a life drained of its colours, but they have the inner power to fight the odds. Water, sky and the life it reflects has no contours in his frames. So, naturally the grey tone dominates here instead of the blue of the ocean and the sky, which merge into one in many of his photographic compositions.

Vetrivel has always been interested in art and culture ever since his school days. He had his first drumming concert in Singapore, when he was a first standard student, and studied music at KM Music Conservatory in Chennai for seven years. At the same time, he was also keen about architecture and used to draw architectural forms during his school days. Later, his mentoring at Chitravathi Centre for Creativity (CCC), the creative education arm of his alma mater - The Velammal International School (TVIS) - further fortified his inclination towards drawing, and also strengthened his aesthetic vision and interest in photography. He later used such experiences to define his photographic talent, thus developing an idiom of his own that is rooted in his societal concerns.

“My interest in photography was seeded in my childhood, as is the case of many new-gen kids, with a high-end cellphone that makes everyone a photographer,” says Vetrivel. “But that was the beginning. From the everyday objects I captured thus, slowly I started looking at photography as a medium of art to capture various facets of our society at its expressive best.”

As part of his photographic exploration, he was also lucky to see the world beyond his immediate premises – both physically and culturally - through his social involvement, including the interaction with his friends. “Then, a new life started emerging before me when I started looking at the world through the lens eye. Instead of looking at it from a distance, I felt a sense of empathy, which grew over a period of time,” he says.

It was through such journeys that he came to know about the tsumani of 2004 December and how it threw the coastal life out of gear. Those post-tsunami narratives also were engraved in him, which slowly transformed the focus of his lens from the picture perfect romantic sights to the realities of life at the grassroots.

While engaged in interactions with the fishermen, he started observing their traits from close quarters. It was not just the ethnic feature that grabbed his attention, but the sociological aspect also got reflected in their physical appearance. People who are compelled to work hard even during their old age, and struggle to eke out a living. “Their faces tell the stories of their struggle, and their eyes become oceans of pain and reminiscence... Their work culture, their faith, their stories, everything slowly started taking shape in my mind,” says the young photographer, who also photographed little kids who support their parents, often at the cost of their schooling. They learn from the sea and shores more than what they learn in the classroom. Their life is a far cry from his life as a young boy who never had to struggle for anything, remembers Vetri, who says their looks are frozen in time.

The show which began on February 4 will be on till February 13.


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