Capturing Love in a Photo Frame

Rahul Mahesh

A review of the book In Love with Life, featuring photographs by Indian photojournalist T. S. Satyan, and the accompanying essay by H. Y. Sharada Prasad. 


Photographs are stories frozen in time, something that once meant more than just the moment. In the capsule of the moment, lies the life that is immortalised in a roll of film for the world to glimpse into. The charm of a T. S. Satyan photograph is in its simple realisation that life caught in the right moment tells a million tales. While the world is obsessed with perfection, Satyan teaches us that the imperfections of reality is what makes us human. There is no wrong angle, there is no picture perfect moment; yet somehow, he has the eye to make a moment as close to perfection as possible. 


The book In Love with Life: A Journey Through Life in Photographs, is a display of this very skill that made him a colossal figure in Indian photojournalism. Take away the part where he is deemed the ‘Father of Indian Photojournalism’, and you are left with a visionary who pioneered a journey that stands apart from the rest of the pack. Among the indomitable contemporaries of Satyan from this part of the country, H.Y. Sharada Prasad captures Satyan at his best. A friend for sixty years, he fondly remembers Satyan and his penchant for “spontaneity, openness and zest for life.” While many brood and ponder for the perfect moment or for the right frame, I fall in love with his photos for its simple touch. In Love with Life comes with an array of pictures, some of which are taken in moments of crisis and pain that somehow cut through the chaos, to create  moments of hope and joy. The reality of life, as authenic as it can seem to be, is what makes Satyan’s pictures linger in my mind for long hours. There is a poetry in what his lens captures that melodiously flows through each page of this book, making one want to stay awhile and look further into each of these photographs.


Childhood, T. S. Satyan, 1973, Haryana, India, Silver gelatin print, Gifted by the T. S. Satyan Family Trust, PHY.07997


In what are expressions in the ordinary moments, Satyan manages to capture a story that encapsulates the human experience in the most unassuming way. Be it the pictures of the flash floods in Delhi, the floods in Assam and the very many chaotic scenes that unfolded in the camps. There are moments of joy, innocence and happiness in these photographs taken in unfortunate circumstances where we can find Satyan almost searching for them among the crowd. There is a poignant note that Satyan makes about his photography, “My people are not the rich and famous. They are simple, ordinary folk. They do not hit the headlines, yet my people are people who matter.” This notion stands tall in the photographs that he has taken, although some have been the so-called famous and important. There is an ease with which he draws the personality of his subjects in a moment in time which I find engaging and often touching. The value of Satyan in the realm of photojournalism cannot be overlooked, he is undoubtedly one of the resounding figures to bring the Indian lens to the world. Unadulterated by a foreign mindset, Satyan has captured the nature of a people. The resilience, the cheer and the chaos in equal measure, something that often escapes the eyes of an outsider on an assignment in India. While many photographers feature imagery that is deemed pedantic, the typical scenes of villages and the like, Satyan captures the humanity.


Karnataka, T. S. Satyan, 1976, Karnataka, India, Silver gelatin print, PHY.10485


With this book, I find the circle of life. A child is born, the many facets of growing up and the rigamarole of labour, of work and finally death. What particularly catches my attention is the last picture of this book. An infant’s outstretched palm in black and white. Like much of Satyan’s works, amidst the routine of life, the burdening pain of work, calamities and chaos of existence; there is a silver lining and somehow T. S. Satyan’s camera lingers there silently waiting for a happy ending.

Rahul Mahesh is a Content Writer at MAP. He finds pleasure in reading Russian Literature with metal and punk music in the background.

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