‘Reframed’: North Chennai through the eyes of its young residents

Six youngsters were picked up and trained in photography over seven months, to photograph images from North Chennai, the place they call home. Their pictures will now be showcased in an exhibition.
Collage of photographs taken by North Chennai's students
Collage of photographs taken by North Chennai's students

North Chennai has always shouldered the reputation of being a polluted, unsafe region, never receiving its due credit when it comes to stories about Chennai city. It is easily among the most scenic of regions within the city, but its land is marred by factory buildings and its water bodies polluted by effluents. 

“But North Chennai has much to offer. It is the birthplace of Gaana (a music genre that arose from North Chennai), the melting pot of cultures and cuisines. North Chennai is home to some of the best athletes (the movie Sarpatta Parambarai narrates the boxing culture of North Chennai). What used to be called the Black Town earlier, North Chennai even today remains a site of discrimination, with its disproportionately high concentration of dirty, toxic industries located amidst historically marginalised and predominantly working class communities,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, a Chennai-based writer and environmental activist.

Even a decade ago, popular culture such as Tamil cinema too used a specific lens to portray North Chennai, its people and culture. However, things changed with films such as Madras, Vada Chennai, Kaala etc.

In an effort to showcase North Chennai differently, the Chennai Climate Action Group (CCAG) sponsored photography workshops for six youngsters from the region. Over the last five months, these young minds were trained in photography and asked to click pictures of their neighbourhoods, and narrate stories of its land and people. Their best work will now be showcased in an exhibition titled ‘Reframed’, which will be held in Chennai.

Photograph by Noor Nisha (16)

Photograph by Shafeeq Ahamad (17) 

The exhibition will be held on February 4 and 5 at the Folly, Amethyst in Royapettah, Chennai between 10 am and 6 pm.

Photograph by Logeshwaran G (22)

North Chennai “Reframed" will tell stories about work, play, joy and mourning in North Chennai using about 50 chosen photographs from the thousands taken by the young photographers since they first got their cameras in July 2021. The photographers are aged between 14 and 22. Trained by Palanikumar, a photographer with PARI (People’s Archive of Rural India) and cameraman of Kakoos, a film on manual scavenging, the children spent four months amidst the industrial scapes of Ennore-Manali and the rustic beauty of the Pulicat Wetlands to tell stories of these places through their camera. 

Photograph by Hairu Nisha (17)

“My personal favourite photo is the one I clicked in Royapuram. The photograph shows a group of fishermen arranging their nets after returning from a fishing trip. Generally, the nets are arranged on the seashore, but in the picture, they are arranged by the highway. This is because there are no seashores left in North Chennai. All of them have been converted to roads and highways. Behind the fishers, you will see large cranes and containers from the harbour region. It shows how industrialised the place is,” says 22-year-old G Logeshwaran, a participant whose work is a part of the 50 selected photos that will be showcased in the exhibition. 

Photograph by Mohammad Adhil (14)

A new student of photography, Logesh says that the workshop taught him how to communicate with people to make them feel comfortable enough to narrate their stories. “Palanikumar sir taught us the basics of photography quickly. But the next few months were focused on getting us to narrate stories of the people. For this, we had to talk to people around us, we had to talk to strangers and listen to their stories in order to show that in our pictures,” Logesh says. Logesh has focused on floods and beaches of North Chennai in his photos. 

Photograph by Karthikeyan (17)

Sixteen-year-old Noor Nisha is another participant whose work has been selected for the exhibition. Nisha says she used to click photos of landscapes on her phone. “But this workshop and training has given me a completely new learning experience. One of the best things I learnt is this - never photograph a person when they are at a lower elevation than you. Palanikumar sir was very specific about this. He focused on respecting his subjects by sticking to eye level angles,” she explains.

Her favourite photo is the one she took of the fisherfolk catching shrimp in the Kosasthalaiyar river running through Kattur. “The river is so polluted, I couldn’t even stand for 45 minutes inside it to click photos. But the fisherfolk spend 3-4 hours everyday catching shrimp from this river. The ash from the Ennore Thermal Power Station (ETPS) nearby has turned the shrimp ash grey, a direct effect of effluent pollution. But these fisherfolk do not have an alternate career option. They make Rs 200 a day and run their houses on this amount. So they continue to fish,” Nisha says.

Other participants are Shafeeq Ahamed (17), Karthikeyan (17), Hairu Nisha (17) and Mohammad Adhil (14). 

Pictures: L-R Noor Nisha, Mohammad Adhil, G. Logeshwaran, Karthikeyan, Shafeeq Ahamad, Hairu Nisha 

The exhibition will be held on February 4 and 5 at the Folly, Amethyst in Royapettah, Chennai between 10 am and 6 pm.

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