Project 365 is a collective public photo art initiative by EtP (Ekalokam Trust for Photography) to use the popularity and power of the medium of photography to collectively create visual documentary and artistic records for posterity. EtP is a non-profit trust registered in Tiruvannamalai and operates across South India. The Trust is dedicated to protecting and promoting contemporary photography and connected art forms. The Trust aims to take contemporary photo-art to rural South India and its urban surroundings; rejuvenate the traditional (analogue) photography medium; archive the life and work of contemporary photographers, and to collectively create and preserve photographic visuals of the fast vanishing landscapes, divergent customs, varied cultures and diversified lifestyles of South India. Project 365 was launched in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu on 15 August 2014 and the year-long project features 25 contemporary photographers. The second phase of Project 365 will focus on the three ancient Sangam era ports of Tyndis, Muziris and Korkai, and the third phase of the project plans to cover the entire Cauvery River Cauvery. Project 365 is led by contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad.

The photographers of Project 365 Tiruvannamalai were selected through open invitation and interested applicants were asked to propose a concept and their preferred medium / approach / technique. The project was open for photographers from diversified background, interest and experience. The final selection of shortlisted photographers was done after a telephonic interview by the Director. Preference was given to those who expressed willingness to explore the analogue medium and experiment with mixed-media techniques and approaches. The project also incorporated photographers who had an interest in using modern digital medium including smart phone photography and photographers whose concept had the scope to bring out the deep-rooted culture of Tiruvannamalai. A few leading contemporary photographers were also invited to be part of this cultural initiative. The 360 degrees 365 days photo perambulation of the Arunanchala hill and its surroundings by 25 photographers over a one year period (August 2014 – 2015) has brought out many interesting dimensions of this growing town.

Team photographers: Abul Kalam Azad (Director), R. R. Srinivasan, Dinesh Khanna, Waswo X. Waswo, Thierry Cardon, Ramu Aravindan, Shibu Arakkal, Bhagyashri Patki, Anurag Sharma, Ami Gupta, Arnav Rastogi, Shiv Kiran, Leo James, J Jayaraman, Panneer Selvam, Biju Ibrahim, Radhi Jangla, Jiby Charles, Pee Vee, Varun Gupta, Seema Krishnakumar, Iqbal M. K., Maveeran Somasundaram and Bony KR.

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Project 365 is unlike the usual venue-based events and photo-art festivals that have become increasingly popular in contemporary art scenario. This creative force, comprising of independent photographers has worked towards the collective vision of preserving visuals of multi-religious, multi-cultural South India. In the absence of any prototypes to emulate, EtP had to devise its own strategies to work with photographers and reach out to the common public. The use of the democratic and so far free, alternative social media and other alternative platforms to share and promote this cultural photo project is one such. In this digital age there is a growing concern regarding the lack of copyright laws and ever increasing possibilities of photo-art works being “copied”. EtP has been sharing Project 365 photo-art works on online platforms, thereby creating familiarity and a sense of recognition among the large “online” photo enthusiasts.

Art events in India often get diluted into art houses and galleries that are situated in urban settings. The larger rural audience is often excluded from contemporary art initiatives and is left unaware of ongoing art initiatives, artists, their practices and aesthetics. Even the most modern and democratic media such as photography, which have the inherent quality to express ideas to public in a simple, honest and everyday manner is being capitalized. For generations, villagers had preserved their crafting skills, but they have lost their ability to change and further enhance their craft. This project is an attempt towards inculcating the interest of the large South Indian urban and rural audience in contemporary photo-art.

As part of the Project 365, EtP had organised several events and exhibitions. The traveling ‘Mukhamukham’ – Face to Face with Project 365 Photographers was one of its kind and had resulted in greater reach amidst the wider audience. “A photographer is always behind the lens, and rarely do they get the opportunity to present and speak about their works, their life and journey as a photographer. Mukhamukham is a platform for the upcoming photographers to share their emotions and dreams, learn together and grow. Developing the culture of appreciating the life and works of photographers is important aspect of this event” informed Abul Kalam Azad.

The Mukhamukham event was organised at Kalai Illam, a village space for art established by the Trust as well as in other public venues in Tiruvannamalai. The Project 365 Team also travelled to different parts of South India and presented the photographs in many colleges, art institutions, festivals and at public spaces. A projection of project 365 photographs was presented by Blindboys at Angkor Photo Festival, Siem Reap and Focus Photo Festival, Mumbai in the year 2015. Project 365 Director Abul Kalam Azad’s works were projected for a large audience in Thripunithura during the Ekharya Performance Festival. On the second day, Project 365 photographs were also presented. Government Fine Arts College, Kerala; Thalam Bangalore; Vamsi Books Tiruvannamalai had organised a special projection evening each to showcase the photographs collectively created by the team. The resident Project 365 photographers got the opportunity to learn from fellow Project 365 photographers Varun Gupta and Thierry Cardon, who had organised a brief workshop on film developing and cyanotype printing technique.

EtP also organised an exhibition series broadly titled ‘Photography and Beyond’. The series had three solo shows, ‘on THE ROAD’ by Ganeshbabu Chembayil, ‘Palmyra’ by Christian Uhlmann and ‘Sema’, by Abul Kalam Azad. Eminent writers, publishers, art enthusiasts, historians and local public have visited these shows. EtP yearly newsletter ‘Photo Mail’ was released on December 7, 2014. Artist Shibu Natesan released the first copy and leading playback singer Shahabaz Aman received the first copy. Project 365 photographers, artists and local public joined the occasion.

The year-long project was officially concluded in the month of August 2015. The twenty five photographers have created more than three thousand photographs of this ancient town. The diversity of the collectively created project 365 public photo-archive is paramount, which has a collection of photographs of people, landscape, architecture and lifestyle of Tiruvannamalai. Diversified analogue / digital photographic techniques like large format analogue photography, painted photographs and smart phone devices have been used. The print archive also includes palladium, serigraphy and cyanotype prints.

The strength of the project is the collective consciousness generated by the team, who come from diversified background, experiences, exposures and interests. The independent photographers, are very different and have their own unique styles and approaches. However, as a collective, they weave a comprehensive visual narrative, which can only be perceived when seen as a whole.

The EtP team is currently planning a photo-book and an exhibition. The launch exhibition is being planned in Tiruvannamalai itself. Photographs are usually taken and exhibited in urban galleries / art spaces or shown to potential buyers, and sold or stored for selling. Photographs of rural India often becomes exaggerated exotic representations, created specifically to cater the needs of urban and International buyers and audience. Photographers rarely get the opportunity to show their photographs to a regional audience. Often, the one who is photographed never knows what the photographer does with the photographs. But in Project 365, photographs of a town are collectively taken, shared with the residents of the town, and more than that, the prints are planned to exhibited here itself and later preserved as a local visual treasure.

This is indeed a great move towards re-positioning art as the symbol of one’s culture and the pioneering collective movement, inspite of all the challenges, has reached the next milestone. As the team awaits the announcement of the second phase, it is time to acknowledge and celebrate the energy and effort of the entire team in successfully completing the first phase. Hats off, Project 365 Photographers !!!