North Chennai’s young residents turn photographers to share their stories

Feb 8, 2024


Palanikumar worked for over a year with the team, which comprises S Nandhini (18), E Imman (17), D Vigneshwari (15), S Vinodhini (19), S Naveen (18), A Rashiya (21), P Thirisha (20) and N Sakthivel (28).

Palanikumar worked for over a year with the team, which comprises S Nandhini (18), E Imman (17), D Vigneshwari (15), S Vinodhini (19), S Naveen (18), A Rashiya (21), P Thirisha (20) and N Sakthivel (28).
| Photo Credit: M PALANIKUMAR

“Try taking a taxi to Vyasarpadi,” says photographer M Palanikumar. “Most drivers will refuse to come inside. I know of auto-drivers from other parts of the city who back off the moment a passenger asks to be dropped in the neighbourhood.” This part of the city, home to daily-wagers and people from marginalised communities, is also relatively unexplored. Palanikumar has worked with eight students from the area to encourage them to tell their stories through the camera.

In the exhibition, there will be photos of the people who make up North Chennai, detailing their lifestyle, problems and joys, the little things that constitute their world

In the exhibition, there will be photos of the people who make up North Chennai, detailing their lifestyle, problems and joys, the little things that constitute their world
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

“The idea is to help them acquire a journalistic voice,” says the 33-year-old. The photos will be exhibited at Life in North Chennai, an event hosted by Vyasai Thozhargal, a collective that helps educate youngsters in Vyasarpadi. The show is supported by People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), Chennai Climate Action Group (CCAG), and Palani Studio.  

Palanikumar says he worked for over a year with the team, which comprises S Nandhini (18), E Imman (17), D Vigneshwari (15), S Vinodhini (19), S Naveen (18), A Rashiya (21), P Thirisha (20) and N Sakthivel (28). Among them, Nandhini is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. “There are very few children who take up journalism from Vyasarpadi,” points out Palanikumar. He hopes that with exposure and training, more students come forward to wield the camera. “Their perspectives are unique,” he adds. “They tend to take along their stride what people from the outside may deem painful or pitiful.”

There are so many single mothers in North Chennai, working long hours to support their family

There are so many single mothers in North Chennai, working long hours to support their family
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

In the exhibition, there will be photos of the people who make up North Chennai, detailing their lifestyle, problems and joys, the little things that constitute their world… “They have captured colourful shots of clothes drying on lines, cramped one-roomed homes that hold all their belongings, portraits of family members,” says Palanikumar, adding, “There are so many single mothers here, working long hours to support their family; conservancy workers; women chopping wooden chips that hold nails on walls, through the day…” The students, who were armed with cameras that he provided, have shot about 4,500 photos, out of which he picked 220 for the exhibition.  

Through his studio, Palanikumar imparts free training to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. “This is my way of giving back to society,” he says, adding that he regularly gets donations in the form of cameras to be used for the purpose. “It’s nice if one of our cameras becomes the first camera for a budding photographer.”

The students, who were armed with cameras that he provided, have shot about 4,500 photos, out of which he picked 220 for the exhibition

The students, who were armed with cameras that he provided, have shot about 4,500 photos, out of which he picked 220 for the exhibition
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

His photography lessons mainly comprise sharing his perspectives on treating one’s subject with respect. “My technical classes are over in a day,” he points out, adding that the actual learning happens on the field. He hopes that the exhibition will help people from other parts of the city open up to North Chennai. “We plan to take visitors on a tour of its many by-lanes, show them how life is here, in its real form,” he says. This will contribute to changing the prejudices surrounding its people.

Our Streets, Our Stories: Life in North Chennai is on from January 19 to 21, 9am to 8pm, at Dr Ambedkar Pagutharivu Padasalai, 4th street, JJR Nagar, Vyasarpadi. The event is being inaugurated by film maker Vetrimaaran.

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