Saturday, February 02, 2008

Encounter with an Eminent Lensman

Early in the morning this wednesday, Gyani and I drove to the house of legendary photographer, T.S. Satyan who lives in Saraswatipuram. After we got the octagenarian on board, we drove to a small hamlet, Hemmaragaala which is about 15-20 kms after Nanjanagud towards Chamarajanagara. We were on a mission of photo shoot at Santana Venugopalaswamy temple there.

T.S. Satyan is a celebrated photojournalist of India; he was born in 1926 in Mysuru and after a highly successful career in photography he returned to his beloved city for good.

As an amateur photographer, I always harboured a desire to see this living legend at work. He had seemed elusive and unresponsive during all my previous encounters with him, though I never vocalised my desire which laid buried deep down inside. When Gyani told me about the trip on Tuesday evening I was like 'hey some one pinch me...'

At Hemmaragaala Satyan was in his elements. The pristine and quaint charm of the hamlet impressed the photographer and he started shooting immediately. He saw me carrying a digital camera and without me asking started telling how to compose a photograph, which angle looks good, what kind of light is better, etc. Only then I could muster myself and asked him, why does he prefer black-and-white photographs over coloured ones. Well he seemed disappointed with my question, of course it was stupid, but nonetheless explained why.

Satyan showed me the scene he had just shot and told that the if the photo were to be in colour it would be dull but when it is in black and white, we can click it in a higher contrast and the texture of the scenery is highlighted which would otherwise get distracted by the colour. It was a revelation for me.

During our drive back home we crossed another hamlet of Badanavaalu. Satyan became nostalgic and said that he had taught in that village. This came as a surprise since we didn't know he had worked as a teacher. When Gyani told him that, his reply was amazing.

In pre-independence India Mysuru was being ruled by Wodeyars and under kings like Mummadi Krishnaraja, Chamaraja, Nalwadi Krishnaraja and finally, Jayachamaraja, Mysuru progressed in all aspects, be it infrastructure, culture, irrigation, economy, literacy, etc. One among the many things that Mysuru pioneered was the adult literacy programme. For the first time in the country Mysuru initiated this concept and college students were supposed to go to rural areas and teach adult village folk. This was kind of a rural posting which they had to do for a few months in order to qualify for the graduation and Satyan was posted at Badanavaalu and surrounding villages.

Satyan revealed that along with adult literacy another movement that was initiated in Mysuru was Youth Hostel which has now grown into the gigantic Youth Hostels Association of India. He started recounting his fellow scouts and friends who went on to occupy international offices.

At this point my eyelids started growing heavy and I was lulled to sleep by the drone of the car and the breeze. Though I consciously love it, unconsciously I still seem to get bored of unknown names and dates of history. My snores betrayed my best intentions and I was later told by Gyani that they earned a look of disapproval by Satyan. Well, that's my encounter with T.S. Satyan as close as I have ever got.


Sandy Carlson said...

What an adventure! That sounds like a wonderful outing. Did you take some pictures (hint, hint...)?

Why does he prefer black and white? I didn't think that was a stupid question. I know some photographers prefer film to digital and others feel Photoshop and the like are cheats, and I can understand their point of view, but this question intrigues me.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. God bless.

Sandy Carlson said...

That is a marvelous photo! Thanks for stopping by to let me know it is up. Is that a 35mm SLR?

I see you have Dan Brown's book on your shelf. Is it any good? I haven't read him in about a year, and the look of this book whets my appetite.

Raghu said...

Hi Sandy, thanks for dropping by and as you saw I have acted on your suggestion and posted the picture. Yes, it is a 35mm SLR which Satyan is weilding in this pic, he said he has sold most of his cameras and accessories as the field photography is changing with the advent of digital cameras and you dont get necessary films, accessories, etc.

Regarding the book on my shelf, I read it quite long back and I dont know how to update it with my latest reads. Well, I found Digital Fortress of Dan Brown to be engaging but it doesnot beat his Da Vinci Code.


claytonia vices said...

Hey Raghu, that was a nice experience u had. I too prefer black and white sometimes for many reasons. What reasons did Satyan give you?

Sandy Carlson said...

Thanks for that info. I have my SLR still and I miss the feel, smell, and sound of it! I am a child who loves the instant gratification of digital, though!

Thanks for the brief on the Brown book. Angels and Demons was good, too. Strange. Brown is a painterly writer who takes you right where he is! I love it.

Take care, and thanks for coming back to visit!

Raghu said...

@ Claytonia: When I asked the reason for his preference to black and white photographs, Satyan showed me the scene he had just shot and told that the if the photo were to be in colour it would be dull but when it is in black and white, we can click it in a higher contrast and the texture of the scenery is highlighted which would otherwise get distracted by the colour.

@ Sandy: Yes, he does paint the sceneries with his words, Dan Brown, I mean.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Raghu,

I read with nostalgia, your account of a meeting with T.S. Satyan. Could I get his mailing address. I would like to write to him.

My name is C.S. Ramachandran. (called Ramu at home)S/o Late C.R.Subbaraman, Southern Railway, Chennai.

TSS / TSN, will instantly recognize this reference!

Would appreciate receiving the requested info, on

Thanks and regards,

C.S. Ramachandran

Kaajal said...

Dear Raghu,

We are a photo gallery ( and proud to be presenting Photographer TS Satyan's first photography exhbition on the 18th Dec (would send you the invite for the event). As promotional material we distribute catalogues of the Photgrapher at the venue. While browsing the net to gather more information on Mr.Satyan, I happened to chance on his picture posted on this post. I have taken Mr. Satyan's permission to use the same in the catalogue but would be grateful if you too would approve. Also if you can tell me the name of the photographer who took the picture then we can credit him for the same.

Look forward to your quick reply as the catalogues have to be printed as soon as possible. Thank you.

Raghu said...

@ Kaajal: Thanks for dropping by. Well, I shot that photograph and yes, you have my permission to print it in the catalogue. You can print my official name which is 'H.S. Dharmendra' and also please print my blog address along with the name. If you want, I can send you the same photograph in higher resolution.

I would love to drop by at the exhibition.

Seshu said...

Hello Raghu,

Thanks for stopping by Tiffinbox. I had a terrific visit with Mr. T.S. Satyan. In fact, I have about 6 of his images gracing my home. He is a terrific photographer. Wish there were more places like Tasveer Arts in India to celebrate the likes of Mr. Satyan. While I didn't get a picture of him holding a camera, I came away with a few really neat portraits. Wish I could be in India for the opening. I am stuck here in the NE of the US, enduring the frigid winter. But I have memories of having an awesome Mysuru style lunch at Mr. Satyan's to keep me warm.

Uma Param said...

I came across your blog space when looking for an e-mail address for the photographer Satyan. Would you be able to give me his e-mail address? If I wanted to use one of his photographs, how should I go about it? Thanks.

Raghu said...

[Uma Param] Thanks for the message, hope you enjoyed my blog post on T.S. Satyan as well.

All photographs which he has shot are under his copyright. I suggest you please contact him before using his photographs. He can be contacted at his email: and also his telephone: 0821-2543776

Please tell me more about your project wherein you want to use Satyan's photographs.

Uma Param said...

Thank you for your prompt reply. I have written to Mr. Satyan. I have not decided whether or not to use photographs in my piece on C.V.Raman, but it is always prudent to get the necesary information beforehand. I particularly liked the one where he is wearing a garland. It says something about him - his pleasure in keeping the garland on unlike most others who take it off rightaway!

arun said...

Sir I Want the history & Details of hemmaragaala