We spoke with the young Amirtharaj Stephen on his work at the Delhi Photo Festival this year and what he looks forward to the most…
DPF : How does it feel to be selected to the second edition to the Delhi Photo Festival – what was your first reaction?
AS : I feel very happy and excited as a bigger audience from the capital will get to see what is going on in the southern end of our nation.
DPF : Tell us a bit about your work at the festival this year and where the inspiration came from…
AS : My work in the festival is about the ongoing anti nuclear protests around my native region post Fukushima nuclear accident and how the government is trying to suppress the movement. I was raised in an Atomic Energy Departments township where I lived for over 20 years with the belief of nuclear energy being the future of our nation’s power needs. I never got a chance to see the other side of the coin. I first came to know about the cons of nuclear energy only in 2009 when there was a radiation leakage in Kaiga Nuclear Plant in Karnataka. I started to explore the dangerous side of nuclear energy. And when I went to the Idinthakarai village (the nerve center of anti nuclear protests in Koodankulam) I saw thousands of villagers protesting. I spoke to a number of villagers who shared their genuine concerns about nuclear energy. On the other hand the Government of India was refusing to address the concerns of the villagers. I too had my fears, questions and doubts about a nuclear power plant being located in a densely populated region like ours. The government was refusing to share even the basic data to the public in spite of the Chief Information Officer of our country ordering to keep the information in public domain. All these factors influenced me to start working on the issue. The Non Violent Gandhian protests of the Idinthakarai people inspired me to continue working there.
DPF : What are you currently working on? Any new projects, assignments, incidents of interest?
AS : I am still working on the anti nuclear protests. So far I feel I have documented the protesting part. Now I am focusing more on life style changes of the protesting people whose personal life and jobs have faced various challenges due to the protests, which is going on for more than 700 days.
Alcohol culture in Tamil Nadu, issues faced by Tamil Refugees of Sri Lanka, man-animal conflict in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu, River Thamirabarani, Road Accidents and extra judicial killings in Tamil Nadu are the topics which interests me a lot and on which I want to work. I am not sure how or when I will start to work on these. These are time consuming and it may take years. I am not sure whether I will be able to complete all these in my life time. So I am suggesting and guiding young photographers to work on these topics.
DPF : You were a visitor to the festival in 2011 – what was your experience then and what are you looking forward to the most this year?
AS : During the 2011 festival I was one of the volunteers for the festival. Being in the festival site for around ten days gave me ample time to see, read and analyze a lot of inspiring work. More than the talks, I enjoyed the photographs exhibited. I had my portfolio review with Prashant and I shared my street photographs with him. He gave his thoughts on my images and asked me what am I going to work next. I told him about my intentions to document the Koodankulam protests and the man-animal conflicts of Western Ghats in a conceptual way. He asked me how I am going to proceed and what I am going to focus for which I did not have clear answers. He gave me the clarity and suggestions to work. He told me just go and start working and today part of my ongoing work on Koodankulam is in the second edition of Delhi Photo Festival. The festival also gave me a chance to meet and have informal conversations with many wonderful personalities like Sudharak Olwe and Paolo Patrizi. They were kind enough to give me feedback and guidance which helped me a lot. This year I am looking forward to meet many more good souls and see a lot of inspiring works from photographers across the world.
Images © Amirtharaj Stephen from the ongoing Bystander series
– Mansi Midha