Tiruvannamalai is an ancient nature worship site, situated in the Bangalore–Pondy Highway, Tamil Nadu. The fertile land around the hill was highly potent for farming and soon became an important human settlement in South India. During the Sangam/Classical period (3rd century BCE to 3rd century CE), Buddhism and Jainism were the most prominent philosophies in South India and during that time, Tiruvannamalai became one of the important centers for Jain culture and learning. Later, many a legends and mythical stories of Tamil Saiva lore grew around the Annamalai Hill and it came to be revered as “Agni”.
Colonial documentation, beginning from the 1880s, had reduced the town of Tiruvannamalai to its most visible two elements – the Annamalai hill and the Annamalaiyar temple. Very few images and even lesser information about the men behind the images are available from this period, but it seems certain that very little apart from the hill and the temple interested colonial photographers. The “second phase” of photographic history of Tiruvannamalai came about with the emergence of Ramana Maharshi, whose presence in the photographic images of Tiruvannamalai is simply overbearing. To this day, Tiruvannamalai’s identity is tied to Ramana through the photographs of P R S Mani, G G Welling, Dr. T N Krishnaswamy, Eliot Elisofon, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. These histories of documentation have consciously or unconsciously warped the nature of photographic representation – even if we are talking about a tiny temple-town.
Contemporary photographic image-making has to be redirected to the regions avoided by these partial histories. EtP’s pilot photo-art project, Project 365 Tiruvannamalai, was an attempt to enable the visual recording of this town by tapping into the distinct lives that inhabited it, which had so far been left out of photographs of the region. The project has been undertaken at a paradigm shift moment, when the impact of globalization and technological advancements is fast changing the contours of contemporary life, lifestyle and people. Even though photography has pervaded every corridor of human life, very few images are available in the public domain and even less are preserved for posterity. Besides, in the digital era, while there is an overflow of information, there is also, ironically, a lack of focused effort that systematically documents and archives the everyday scenario – the mundane life that is infused with cultural symbols.
Project 365 Tiruvannamalai was led by contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. He has contributed the major part of the three thousand and odd photographs that are part of the public archive. The contributors include R R Srinivasan, Dinesh Khanna, Waswo X Waswo, Thierry Cardon, Ramu Aravindan, Shibu Arakkal, Bhagyashri Patki, Ami Gupta, Arnav Rastogi, Leo James, J Jayaraman, Biju Ibrahim, Radhi Jangla, Jiby Charles, P Venkatesan Perumal, Varun Gupta, Seema Krishnakumar, Iqbal M K, Boney K R. and others. Each project photographer worked on his/her own individual photo project, using their own medium of choice – smartphones, 35mm, digital cameras, traditional cameras – providing a comprehensive view of contemporary Tiruvannamalai. The strength of the project is the collective consciousness generated by the team, which is made of individuals who come from diverse cultures, languages, experiences, exposures, and interests. As a collective, they try to weave a comprehensive visual narrative, which can only be perceived when seen as a whole.
In this page, we are presenting a curated selection of some photographs collated from the 3000 and odd photographs that are a part of the Project 365 public photo-art archive Tiruvannamalai.