Two years since national lockdown: how this photography exhibition captures India’s pandemic struggle
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 595 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath recently hosted an exhibition by photographer K Venkatesh, titled Portrayal of Pandemic Havoc on Ordinary People. It featured around 40 gripping photographs of India’s struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a sharp eye for detail, the photographer has shone a spotlight on some of the tragedies of the pandemic, as well as the human spirit of resilience. Venkatesh’s earlier photographic exhibitions have focused on themes such as tribal life, cultural perseveration, struggle for identity, and loss of humanity.
Other exhibitions have focused on transgender representations through the ages, tsunami impacts, human struggles, and plight of elders. Some of the exhibitions have involved months of patient research and field work, and building rapport with target communities.
The Bengaluru-based photographer has shared highlights of his earlier exhibitions on his website, Beyond Focus. Featured exhibitions are on sculptures of Bidar, Maha Mastakabhisheka of Lord Gomateshwara, Siddi communities, natural light, demonetisation hardships, life on Namma Metro, and even the practice of siesta.
“The pandemic was a human disaster. I have tried to capture the magnitude of the horror and hardships, but stayed away from gory photographs,” Venkatesh explains in a chat with YourStory.
Venkatesh’s works over the years have been featured by a range of media outlets including BBC Online, Outlook, India Today, Reuters, Asian Age, Sunday Mid-Day, City Tab, Bangalore Eveninger, London Times, LA Times, Helsinki Times, and Time Magazine.
He has also won honours such as the Press Club Award for Best Photographer and Rajyotsava Award. Photographs of his exhibitions are shared on his website, and interested viewers can buy prints from him as well.
“I recall my father and other elders telling me about the hardships of earlier plagues and epidemics. But much of this was undocumented for the general public. Through my exhibition, I attempt to preserve the memories of the COVID-19 pandemic for future generations,” Venkatesh explains.
“The pandemic caught humanity unawares, and continues to wreak havoc, causing a trail of death and devastation globally,” he laments. India was complacent when the second wave struck, causing loss of life on a huge scale.
The lockdowns also caused immense hardships to migrant workers, labourers and their families. “They were left to fend for themselves,” Venkatesh observes. There was enormous loss of lives and livelihoods.
The exhibition captures haunting scenes of empty public spaces, burials, cremations, and ambulance lines. But there are also inspiring images of resilience, and the vaccination drive.
Venkatesh offers words of advice for aspiring photographers. “Many photographs capture the beauty and diversity of our country. There is also a selfie craze. But I urge photographers to capture human elements as well,” he suggests.
“There are so many stories in human struggle and the lives of marginalised communities – they should also be preserved and addressed,” Venkatesh signs off.
Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and find new avenues to explore your creative core?