But, in his words, about 30 years ago, something extraordinary happened — he fell in love with old homes. A black-and-white photograph that he took of a simple musician’s home in Thiruppayalam, near Thanjavur, set him off on a long journey in search of old homes, their interiors and the lifestyle of its residents.
The book, Vanishing homes of India, which was launched on Friday at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, is a culmination of years of photography of the interiors of diverse Indian homes.
From the homes of the Nairs and Namboodris in Kerala to those built with wood in coastal Karnataka, and from ornate Chettinad mansions to peasants’ homes in rural Gujarat, his striking images capture not just the vanishing architecture of these residences, but also, the way of life of the people living in them.
Filmmaker Mani Ratnam and N. Ram, chairman, Kasturi and Sons, launched the book published by Hecar Foundation. Mr. Mani Ratnam said as a filmmaker he has always been in awe of people who told stories in short durations like 10 minutes and 30 seconds. “But when we see somebody who can tell a story with one frame, in one moment that is captured, it is something else,” he said. He said each photograph in the book was like a short story.
Mr. Nagarajan chose homes which were at least 100 years old and looked for well-defined ethnic areas in the country. For him, identifying the homes was the most difficult part. “The idea was not to produce clever and stunning images of interiors, using complicated photographic equipment. Though most of the interiors were ill-lit, I avoided using artificial light, as far as possible. I settled to work in the light that was available so that the picture looked natural and unmeddled with,” he stated.
Mr. Ram called it ‘a tribute to memory’. “The act of recording in black-and-white in this way, purely the interiors, communicates love of tradition or rather traditional values shared by the rich and poor, middle class as well as people who have enormous resources. The lifestyles of some have declined over the years, some are doing extremely well. I think that it is an extremely unusual book,” he said.
He added, “There is something called ‘pure design’. We know that in newspapers. Someone like Mario Garcia has written a book on it. I don’t know if there is anything called ‘pure photography’. But, in my thinking, that is what this is.There is absolutely no compromise.”
Mr. Nagarajan thanked all the people who, he said, had made the book possible. M. S. Swaminathan, chairman of the C. P. R. Environmental Education Centre, was also present.