CULTURE CONNECT: Athram Bapu Rao reviews a frame in his village as part of his documentation project. Photo: S. Harpal Singh   | Photo Credit: S. HARPAL SINGH

The young visual artist documents his Kolam community, without the bias of the outsider

Athram Bapu Rao, a Kolam youth in the Komaram Bheem Asifabad district is a pioneer with the camera: he documents tribal life from the perspective of the community, rather than through an exotic lens.

Bheemal Pen puja (tribal worship of Bheem) on Thursday was the latest opportunity for him to wield the camera and he did that with gusto, clicking photographs of the unfolding religious events in his village.

“This is wonderful,” he exulted. The 27-year old Intermediate dropout from Kondapatar village in Jainoor mandal of the district is the first professional photographer in his tribe of poor, minority aboriginal people. Their population of about 38,000 is scattered across Adilabad and Mancherial districts.

The photographic journey for the youth began when he enrolled under Shinde Rajender, a professional photographer of Jainoor mandal, who has also trained about 20 Adivasi Gond youths in the art of taking pictures.

The insider

Bapu Rao’s priority was to project his community’s customs and traditions, and he quit his part time job in Hyderabad to join Mr. Shinde as an apprentice a year ago. “I saw photos of Adivasis taken by outsiders, which portrayed our people in a negative manner,” he recalled.

He doesn’t yet have his own camera. “I borrow it from my studio to take pictures of major events in my village, and do feel disappointed that I do not own one. Having a camera would give me the freedom to visit even other Kolam villages to capture religious and cultural facets,” he pointed out.

But he has been a good student. “Ethnic youngsters are quick learners,” Mr. Rajender said, endorsing Bapu Rao’s ability to shoot and edit the pictures.

The Adivasi boys who learnt photography with the Jainoor tutor are now busy chronicling scenes in the agency area and make a comfortable living. Most of them are ‘mobile’ and go to far off villages to click even passport size photos of tribal residents.