Ravi Agarwal’s relationship with water is sacrosanct. As the founder of environmental NGO Toxics Link, he has regularly drawn people’s attention to the dying Yamuna. And, as a photographer, he is highlighting the ruination of the sea and the people who depend on it for their livelihood.
His latest solo show of photographs in Delhi, Else, All Will Be Still, engages with the fishing community near Puducherry and explores their relationship with the sea. In the images can be seen his bid to address local and larger issues of ecology and sustainability.
“The planet is in an ecological crisis,” said Agarwal. “It is the victim of the conflict between economic development and the planet’s capacity to support a growing and resource-intensive human population.”
Agarwal’s time with this community revealed to him in gritty detail the changing lives of fishermen and their helplessness at the eroding beaches. The show, he says, is part of continuing quest to understand nature.
He explained to Scroll.in the ideas behind some of his works.
Titled Lunar Tide, this set of 29 photographs taken of the sea at night and shot in torchlight represent the 29 days of lunar calendar and the impact it has on tides.
Engines 20km, a set of 20 photos, represents the distance a motorised boat can cover. A motorised costs 10 times more than a paddle boat but travels better. As a result, the fishermen who can only afford paddle boats lose out on bigger catches. This work highlights the plight of the poor fishermen who are still using traditional fishing methods and cannot afford technology to survive in these demanding times.
The engine parts in this work point to the intermixing of capital and technology with nature.
In this creation, Agarwal uses words from his interviews with fishermen on how they look at the sea. “Not even once do they use the words ‘nature’ or ‘beautiful’,” said Agarwal. “They describe the sea in terms of the names of the fish they catch, the politics of the port, the disasters that they have experiences, the machines they use and other such words which show you that the sea is a lived experience for them and not something to be appreciated for its aesthetics.”
A set of three images shows us the 2,000-year-old catamaran (which comes from the Tamil word kattu maran, or tied wood) that is still used by fishermen in Tamil Nadu. The image of the catamaran floating in the air is inscribed with the words from Agarwal’s diary and his thoughts on the changing ecology of the region.
Else, All Will Be Still, will be on at Gallery Espace in New Friends Colony, Delhi, till May 14.