The morning light at 6.45 is terrific; with not much traffic on the roads there is no smog or dust to muck up the air. The drive from Bangalore to Mysore now is a pleasant one. The road, divided by Hibiscus flowers, caters to cars, trucks and buses that rush through towns in a blur. We passed by coconut trees, rice fields and sugar cane farms and lots of people carrying idols of Ganesha on the back of three-wheeled pickup trucks [It’s Ganesh Chathurthi here in India today].
We arrived in Mysore in good time. Mr. T.S. Satyan wasn’t expecting us till about 10 a.m. so we scooted out to my parent’s new apartment in that city to check it out. Though completed, the walls were stark white like a hospital and with no cabinets or any furnishing, the flat looks naked.
The directions to Satyan’s residence left us a little perplexed because the road he lives on is an unmarked one-way street. Arriving at 10.30, we were met at the gate by Satyan’s son, Ravi, who ushered us in. Mr. Satyan, in a chekered half-sleeve shirt, shook our hands and drew us into his living room.
While we had traded emails now for almost four years this was our first meeting. Several years ago, my mother had gifted us Satyan’s book, In Love With Life, a retrospective monograph. The images were single black and white frames showcasing Satyan’s love of people. It’s easy to see what makes them special. I had never seen, at least in a photographer that matches Satyan’s experiences in the business, a sense of intimacy or place with his subjects. They appear to be patiently visited, not the usual grab shots that we are so prone to making these days with digital cameras. It is indeed unfortunate that Satyan’s work is largely unseen in the West as it provides a greater perspective of India’s people and culture than any of the recent cliches that we are so fond of using in our publications.
We chatted about cameras [we are all closet geeks at heart] and he confessed that he had never shot anything with a digital camera. When he worked as a photographer, his gear included nothing more than a Nikon FM-2 with either a 28mm or a 105 mm lens. His images reveal that he used his feet to zoom in and out of people’s lives. The book, In Love With Life, whet my appetite to see his work and he readily welcomed the idea of showing us more of his prints.
In sets of about 20 prints, neatly organized in about five or six large bags, were some of the most glorious black and white RC prints I have seen to date. The inescapable hint of photo fixer was still evident in them, but there were no stains or fingerprints. It didn’t take me long to ask Mr. Satyan whether he would sell any of them to me. He said he offered his images for sale to art dealers and collectors, but offered them to me at a steep discount. I took my time selecting about 12 prints that spoke to me personally. If Mr. Satyan agrees, I’ll be happy to share them with you here in this space.
The weather was warm but pleasantly so. We stepped out for a bit to visit in his garden, a place of refuge for him. The cozy lawn was punctuated by red and pink Hibiscus flowers. Even the outside walls of his home hosted small potted plants that were a source of great pride for him.
Talk turned to lunch as it was 1 p.m. by the time we were done discussing his prints and his experiences as a freelancer working for the famous Black Star agency. The simple but delicious lunch consisted of some Karnataka favorites: bissi belle baath, beans palya, yogurt rice with cilantro, rasam and some sundigei.
Post lunch, Mr. Satyan patiently signed each of his prints and also gifted us a couple of extra autographed copies of his memoir, Alive and Clicking, published by Penguin India.
Satyan and his wife Ratna were gracious hosts who made us feel welcome and really at home. I feel honored to have been able to meet them and look forward to our next meeting after my parents move to Mysore.[I’ll update this post with images as soon as I get back to the US. As usual, I shot images in RAW and don’t have a way of converting them to JPG here on this laptop I am borrowing!]