Against a wall speckled with light spots, a newly married couple, still wearing their garlands, stand facing each other, their faces blending in with the shadows. This picture, a wedding portrait, is in monochrome.
In another, the couple is seen seated in the dining hall, the steel tables in a disarray behind them - a photograph that was taken at a moment when no one was ready for the camera. A procession of women carrying trays of fruits, flowers and clothes on their head and a photograph of a wall bearing a few family photo frames and garlands, old and new, hung on either side.
In stark contrast to the regular trope of wedding photos aplenty on social media, photographer Pon Prabakaran’s body of work reminds us of simpler times, with not one self-conscious element in the frame.
While Prabakaran himself shies away from the spotlight, his photographs don’t. These photos, shot at a wedding in Musiri in Tiruchirappalli district, won him Better Photography magazine’s Wedding Photographer of the Year award under the ‘Photo series on a single wedding’ category for the year 2018.
A Physics graduate, Pon Prabakaran did not intend to pick up the camera initially. But when he eventually did, in 2012, vague memories of his father, also a photographer whom he lost at a young age of 10, made photography seem like an old acquaintance.
He speaks of tougher times in passing and shares with TNM his admiration for his mother, who worked 12 hours a day to put food on the table. “We also had kind people around, my father’s friends, who helped us get by,” he shares.
When Prabakaran shared the news of his award on Facebook, he did so with a small anecdote. “Appa used to take a lot of pictures at home from the remaining films in a roll after the shoot. A blue striped curtain, which is a partition between our living room and the kitchen, was the backdrop for most of the pictures. The home, where we lived for more than 24 years, has seen my father becoming a photographer after running a petti kadai for few years, while I worked (learnt) in a studio near home and took it as a profession. After losing Appa, Amma faced a lot of hardships while raising me and my sister, and trusting in me to take photography as a profession was really a difficult decision to make. Hope I made her proud and happy,” he wrote.
Prabhakaran began working at a photo studio in Triplicane when he was 19, taking passport size photographs and dabbling a bit in Photoshop while he could. Having started with traditional wedding photography, Pon Prabakaran says his style refined after attending a workshop conducted by photographers Selvaprakash and Senthil Kumaran in 2012.
Prabhakaran shares he got his first break as a candid wedding photographer in 2016 when a bride named Vanitha invited him to her hometown in Thoothukudi for her wedding. “She introduced me as a candid wedding photographer from Chennai. Until then, I had been shooting weddings for friends and family and even did birthdays and baby showers. I remember wondering how it was going to turn out,” he chuckles.
But the wedding turned out to be more memorable to Prabakaran than anything else and remains close to his heart even today. “I remember her aunt ordering everyone around, creating the perfect wedding atmosphere. It was a fun shoot for me,” he says.
Prodding him further on what he thinks best captures the life at a wedding, Prabakaran is quick to say that the magic lies in their houses. “People are more natural in their own houses and the details there are aplenty. I mostly try and visit their house first. My favourite shots are from there. When we had gone to shoot a wedding in a village in Ooty, we had no place to stay but the brides’ house. It created a beautiful environment for us to shoot and it felt like I had known the family for a long time,” he adds.
While he admits lack of recognition can be frustrating at times, Prabakaran is firm on capturing the little things from weddings that will invoke the strongest of memories from couples even decades later.