Leo James hails from a Christian family in Quilon, which has been an important Christian settlement since the Sangam period. He knows his lineage, tradition, and history, and is aware of the cultural nuances and the unique as well as unifying attributes of the different Christian factions. Through these photographs, Leo has touched the very soul of Christianity, its penetrating presence, and everlasting contribution. The couples intimately hold their partner or stand close together, look straight into the camera, and smile. A majority of them are from a generation that has not seen today’s upscale photo-shoots. A few are comfortably at ease, while a few others are visibly tensed. The Annamalai Hill, the sacred landmark of Tiruvannamalai, is present, at times distinct and at other times in the far background, exemplifying their connection to this ancient land. However, prominent Christian symbols that make them stand apart are not visible in these photographs.
Unlike the rest of South India, where Christians have a history of about 2,000 years, this temple town has seen only three generations of Christians that constitutes roughly about 2.7% of the total population. A majority of them are first or second-generation Christians and they are yet to completely convert from their traditional practices and lifestyle. Some of them haven’t even changed their names to Christian ones and continue to follow certain practices from their former religion. A few third-generation Christian families have also been included in this series. Objects, animals, and plants that are in the frame become signs of their social and economical background. Their attire, sophistication, posture, and confidence become the symbolic representation of the level of education and social recognition that the Church has extended.
Subtly, yet strongly, Leo’s camera has dwelt on the different strata that make up the South Indian society. These photographs have captured a slice of an ancient town’s developmental history. With globalisation and the resultant homogenisation affecting and permanently altering every aspect of contemporary life, public photo archives of this kind that preserve the paradigm shift moments are the need of the hour.