Before the split, during the Party Congress at Kochi, late comrade Rajeswhara Rao had asked Rajan to photograph for Pravada, the official newspaper of the communist party of the Soviet Union. The photographs that Rajan took of the event were a hit and were published widely in Russian journals. A few years after the split, KPAC, which was controlled by the Communist Party of India, decided to produce cinema to further its vision among the people. The party sponsored Rajan to study the art of cinema in the prestigious All Union, Moscow. He was selected, particularly because of the popularity he received for the photographs he had shot for Pravada. This was another remarkable period in the career and life of Rajan. It was in Moscow he got exposed to the masters of cinema. He was taught by Tarkovsky, he discussed Parajanov and Eisenstein and endlessly watched the classics from around the world. Of all, it was Vittorio De Sica who impressed him much. Rajan was blown away by what he saw – realism expressed in every frame of the Bicycle Thieves. It was a period of revelatory transformation and he came to understand realism to be experienced and expressed as every moment of reality rather than a style used only for the sake of movie making. There he made lasting friendships, widened his connections, and further sharpened his skills. The influences of this International exposure and art community could be visible in his later photographs. Rajan was a firm believer in the Soviet Union and he saw a potential in it, which strengthened his own ideological identity. The fall of the Union was another event that greatly affected Rajan and his photographic career.
Upon return, he did make a few documentaries – one a 30-min about Com. EMS. For making this film, he had bought Bolex, an expensive movie camera which cost about Rs25,000 then. He had handed over the film print to be televised to a comrade, but it was never screened. He thought it was lost somehow and was heartbroken. The movie was hardly seen by anyone. Probably considering the long line of youths who were already waiting for decades for a chance in the movie field, Rajan had already declined an invitation by P Baskaran to move to Madras. I feel that Rajan was more drawn towards making still images. The cinema engages two of our senses — eyes and ears — and the combination of the audio-visual effects have the potential to trigger intense emotions and reactions. But in movies, it is impossible to freeze the movements and experience any particular moment in totality. On the other hand, still images offer a state of permanence; a spontaneous stalling of all movements for eternity to come. A photograph is a feast to the eyes and it speaks in silence. This absence of distractions offers more time and space for thought and reflection, and it too can stir the emotions of joy, agony, and liberation. Rajan understood the language and nuances of still images.
In Calicut, Rajan became a part of the intellectual circle that was informally held together by Basheer. He made several photographs of Basheer and other writers and creative personas who visited him. Rajan’s day job kept him bound within the region. He was not very keen to travel and venture out much, and so most of his photographs were shot in and around Calicut. He was also not going behind opportunities to shoot images. That’s the specialty of his photographs – they weren’t created for someone else, but he shot purely because he wanted to. They were indeed autobiographical anecdotes. MT Vasudevan in the preface of ‘The time of MT – Mt nde kalam’, had mentioned that Rajan was a spy sent by the god. It was an appreciative one, for he had made many photographs of MT. But, I believe Rajan was not a spy – he surely was not an ambitious journalist prying for opportunities. He was a lover of art and ideas, and was tirelessly documenting the moments that he felt were important. The different moods and human expressions fascinated him. Just for the sake of photographing, he didn’t chase opportunities. He didn’t venture much beyond his life and immediate reality. Over the time, Rajan became popular for his historical photographs that documented the beginning of the communist party and his portraits of creative personas.
Exposure to the powerful and raw photographs of Rajan at a young age had a longstanding influence in my early photographic practice. That was my take-off point. Eventually, I embarked on a different path and photographic expression, however, I continued to adore his works. It took me many years of observation and study to finally fit together the pieces of a puzzle that made Rajan’s photographs unique. Today, we can broadly categorise his publicly available works as belonging to the social documentary. We can’t say for sure that Rajan had shot in Black and White because it was his preferred language. At that time, B&W was the only available technology. While it does evoke nostalgic feelings, from the photography history perspective, his works need to be looked at for their content, composition, expression, and aesthetics, rather than for their celebrated black & white language. I feel it is very important to read and properly position Rajan’s photographs and his contributions. Photographs represent memory and time and in a post-modern context, literacy also involves the ability to read and analyze photographs.