Animals and birds in mythology and religion were one of the themes that interested me a lot. Some of these animals are taboos, while the others are totems. During the 1980s, I started photographing crows. Well, crows are very ordinary birds with zero exotic aura attached to them. Neither are they endangered. In Kerala, they are a common sight in any given village or urban settings. In iconography, a crow symbolizes death and immortality; they are considered as carriers of dead souls. Shani, the medieval-era deity whose Vahana is a crow is considered an inauspicious harbinger of bad luck. This negative stereotype shrouds the otherwise shrewd, intelligent and active bird.
Of course, these crow photographs of mine have never been published or exhibited. Probably, because of the overfamiliarity, photographs of crows do not draw public attention. Almost always, people have been attracted to graphic, exotic and scenic images. It could also be the fetishism and nostalgia of the Malayali intelligentsia to confine photographic visuals within the purview of the literature they are exposed to.
My decision to shoot the crows was an early attempt to deconstruct the mainstream perceptions and perspectives. It was only much later that I saw the impressive drawings of common crows by famous cartoonist RK Laxman. Almost like an obsession, over the period, he had created several drawings of crows. He had said, “I drew objects that caught my eye outside the window of my room—the dry twigs, leaves and lizard-like creatures crawling about, the servant chopping firewood and, of course, the number of crows in various postures on the rooftops of the buildings opposite.” In fact, RK Laxman was drawing the utmost familiar life around him.
Photographs can make familiar objects, places, and people more familiar. Everyday mundane encounters and banal objects, when photographed, instill an interest in its viewer to observe the ignored. For, when we look at familiar objects, again and again, it reveals something or the other that was not seen during the first instance. What began as a simple practice to capture the familiar, eventually led me to fathom the mythological and sociological constructs around the totemic and epic animals. Eventually, I started consciously incorporating them as conceptual symbols in my art.