Back in the 1980’s when the rest of the world did not clearly understand where the country was heading towards, Ravi Agarwal started envisioning threats to the environment. He was one among the handful of environmentalist and photographers in India, who paved way for documentary photography that shook the world.
Ravi was in Chennai a month back to mentor a group of highly talented photographers who were part of Urban Water Workshop. While he was helping the participants to better their story through photographs, the team from PhotoConcierge were just watching him with admiration. He just went on eloquently narrating his thoughts with his charismatic presence. How better can a personality get, we thought.
PhotoConcierge, is enthralled and honored to rendezvous with Ravi Agarwal – Activist, Environmentalist, Artist and one of the wonderful human beings that this country has produced.
PC: How did the journey of being an activist start?
RA: I started to bird watch when I was 12 years old. By the time I hit my late twenties, I used to take children for nature and bird watching walks. It was then I came to know that the forest that I frequented – Delhi Ridge Forest (8000 Hectares), was planned to be handed over to the Delhi Development Authorities. Things that I started to care about slowly started disappearing or was threatened to disappear sooner. It took several months to stop the development and a lot of support had to be garnered in the entire process. Therefore I would say that activism came through organically and it just evolved slowly. All my life, I was drawn to the visual sense of the world. Though I never got into it with an aspiration to make money, I liked the idea of seeing the world through photography.
PC: How people perceive the myriad exhibitions that you have done so far? Has there been an offshoot to it, created by the viewers? In fact there is a group on Facebook called ‘Young Environmentalist’ who have been discussing you and your photography as a source of inspiration.
RA: Thank you for sharing that information, I never knew that (chuckles). It is hard to tell how the viewers take off after viewing the works in the exhibition; but people will do what they want to do, especially these days, where people do not want to just make money. People who follow the corporate lifestyle cannot hold on for too long – it is indeed tough to be dragging a life with high targets and there is a diminishing return after following such high stressed lifestyle. It is great to see several concepts and initiatives that has come along, be it alternate tourism or take PhotoConcierge for example.
Also if you care about something, then its all about protecting it. One thing about the world right now is that, it takes very less effort to get detached from the rest of the world. With all the technology that one can buy with money, the gap between people increases. At the end, people who are detached do not discuss about the need of the hour topics and fail to realise that we are all mortal beings after all, if the air is bad, it affects everyone!
PC: You have always dealt with controversial subjects – be it your series on global capitalism and alien waters. Have you ever faced any threats?
RA: Everything we use comes from nature. Right from historical development, we have called nature as a free gift. We just use it, thinking it would never end; but now we know the truth! With climate change across the country – rivers are not rivers anywhere. Nature is not free gift; so how do we bring nature back to life? I have always believed that if you replace the word ‘Economy’ to ‘Ecology’ everything will make sense. Even if you control the quality of water somehow, what about the pesticides in the food we consume, the mercury content in the air in this very room? When you start questioning and if you are sincere to it, things begin to get fixed. You really don’t have to go against anyone but speak the plain truth. Take for example how we have blocked the flow of the rivers and built cities atop it, not just in Chennai but mostly across the country! As an artist, I represent such problems visually and I think we all should feel threatened.
PC: Your concerns for the future?
RA: The level of changes we have triggered is irreversible. We have just barged into the world without realising the repercussions. Science helps us understand what we are doing, culture helps us do things differently. Thirty years back we had probably 50 Ganesha Idols emerged into River Ganga; now we have 500 of them. The scale of population has changed drastically. Culture needs to evolve keeping such threats to environment as well. Science and culture go hand in hand and one needs to care the planet as appropriately.
PC: How has the experience on mentoring young photographers been?
RA: I hardly do such workshops; It has been a great learning experience, working with younger photographers who are trying to make a career in photography. It is indeed quite different the way we learned photography – I learnt in film age and now it is digital, therefore the concerns that the photographers share these days are quite different than what we used to have. Photography today has an expanded language. It was also interesting to see how, with little guidance the photographers quickly caught on and produced a fantastic body of work.
On a general note, I still feel the need for a good Photography School in India. Contemporary style of photography is still missing in our visual culture and it is not the photographers fault but of the seniors.
PC: According to you, which is a strong medium of visual art?
RA: At this age, we have gone beyond medium. Everything is just great as long as the creator is great, the medium hardly comes in the picture. All the mediums of art are challenged and evolving. In fact it is exciting to be part of this period, where there is a lot of action happening in terms of everything.
PC: What are your upcoming shows?
RA: My upcoming show is in Delhi. The inauguration of this exhibition is on April 7 at Gallery Espace. It is about the Fishing Community in Pondicherry and it revolves around few ideas which are ideas of nature and am looking at old Sangham Literature and its cultural reference to landscape ideas and contrasting it with the current landscape usage. I am using photography and conceptual videography for the show. I also have India Art Fair and couple of other International exhibitions lined up.
For more details of this exhibition, please check Events High.
PC: Your thoughts on PhotoConcierge?
RA: It is a highly intelligent model that hits the visual market. With the number of imageries thats floating around, by creating a market, you are enabling the photographer to enhance quality. The next time a photographer goes to a beach, he would want to produce quality image, with PhotoConcierge in mind. You have removed isolation from a photographers mind and have democratised him/ her. Everybody is a photographer, but now everybody can be a professional photographer by selling their image to PhotoConcierge!
Ravi Agarwal also runs an initiative called Toxics Link. It is a group run by twenty five, highly passion driven individuals, focusing on environmental issues and solutions. The link to the site is: Toxic Links.