Picture Perfect with A. Prathap
We spoke to Ace Prathap, special photographer of The Times of India, about how he became involved with Sutra Foundation that eventually resulted into the upcoming photography exhibition “Cave of the Heart” on May 20.
How did you start to work with Sutra Foundation?
I met Ramli a decade back (2008) in Chennai. Our mutual friend, Guru-Dancer Shanmugha Sundaram, introduced him to me. I never realised that this would lead me to many future collaborations with Ramli, himself, and with productions of Sutra Foundation. In 2012, on request from Ramli, I got to cover “Joined in Dance” – a dance festival featuring only male dancers. Later, a big break came when I joined Sutra in their US tour in 2013. This led to my photographs being featured in Sutra’s second pictorial book ‘Quintessential Sutra’. The rest is history.
What do you find the most inspiring about the Sutra dancers?
Over last 10 years, I had seen and experienced the dedication and hard work put in by Ramli and Sutra dancers in honing their art. Talent is just not enough. Ramli’s detailed eye for perfection brings national and international successes for Sutra. The last four years saw the triumphant story of the amazing rise of Sutra’s young dancers from its Outreach Dance Program created to empower youths outside the city centre of Kuala Lumpur. I saw the development from scratch of these young people and took photographs of them when they were literally toddlers. Within the relatively short time of four years, they’ve changed into admirable and splendid dancers. You know, a performance is danced with such ease that audience often do not think of the blood, sweat and tears behind the vision of beauty and ease! This is the inspiring story of Sutra.
Is there a project you are most proud of? And why?
All the projects are special and close to my heart as they are progressive journeys towards trust and understanding of one another’s art form. There is so much of effort put in by both sides (dancer & photographer). The photographs have made it all look effortless but hidden is the hard work involved in bringing out the best of the Dance, dancer through the art of photography. I am fortunate to be associated with Ramli Ibrahim and be a part of the Sutra art-team. I have developed tremendously as the result. Looking back at what we did, each project represents once in a life-time opportunity and has its proud moment. For instance, upon returning to our respective cities after the Ellora experience, Ramli called to say that he had been conferred the Padma Shri Award by the Government of India. This was officially announced on the eve of India Republic Day 26 January, 2018. Less than three months later, I was delighted that I was also able to attend the Padma Award ceremony on the 2 April 2018 at Rastrapathi Bhavan, New Delhi to share the proud moment when Ramli received the Padma Shri Award from the President of India.
What project are you working on now?
I am working on the final touches for my upcoming photography exhibition, Cave of the Heart, at Sutra Gallery this coming 20 May 2018. This has kept me busy, but Ramli and I have shared many ideas and concepts on several other projects. Ideas and concepts need to creatively ferment and digest and only when the opportunity arises, they would ready to be acted upon and manifest in concrete form.
Please describe a typical day in your life as an artist.
Basically, I am a photojournalist working with The Times India (Chennai Edition) and a typical day is the usual hectic work of covering national and international events and reporting them to the office. These now form the routine part of my daily life but I am always ever ready to capture anything artistic or remotely interesting. This can relate to how the light hit my plants in my garden in the early morning or the manner the stray puppies survive their day on my street.
Of course, I also cover a lot of celebrities – from film stars, dancers to politicians and International delegations. And there is the drama of life’s myriad situations from natural to man-made calamities… After all, I am photojournalist and I do enjoy doing this part of my work. I have been freezing images and documenting life for posterity for the past 15years.
I still remember 19 May 2016 – soon after covering the General Elections in Chennai. After the results were out, I had to rush to airport to take my flight to attend my exhibition opening on 20 may 2016. That was my first solo exhibition on Ramli in Konark. And now on 20 May, 2018 I shall be in almost a similar scene in Sutra Gallery but with another exhibition!
Did you ever imagine that you would be the photographer that you are today?
I never imagine that I will be the photographer that I am today! What began as a hobby, and later became my profession, photography for me has developed in a natural progression to become a love as my aesthetic appreciation and knowledge deepens. My world-view has changed tremendously. Now, I have an intense passion to learn new things from situations and people. I bring the same passion and curiosity while covering a wide range of subject. I am also realizing that there so much more to learn!
What was the most challenging experience you’ve had as a photographer?
Shooting photograph of Ramli in public places when he is in costume (or even when he is not) can be challenging! He tends to attract attention. Crowd management has always been a problem for me as I need full concentration. When this occurs, the crowd always affects the mood and impedes the progress. They can be distracting, and some may even interfere with the photographing process. The challenge is to keep your cool and to be firm in your crowd-control voice.
If you could give your younger-self advice 10 years ago, what would it be?
I should have learnt the art of printing images digitally. I am doing this now, slowly.
What is your advice to aspiring photographers?
Knowledge is a deep ocean and there is so much to learn and I am still learning. I started with manual cameras with film and use to process the film in a dark room. Today, it’s all in digital. Everyone is now a photographer and they use Light Room and other software’s for processing their images. Though shooting in digital medium had made things easier but it has its own challenges. At times, my advice is to keep learning new developments in technology. To be ‘in the business’, it is important to keep updating oneself. Also, Photography is one most expensive of hobbies. If you want to make photography a profession, you need to invest a lot in your equipment. However, why not try doing wonders with what you have. Equipment matters but the person behind the equipment matters even more!
The ‘Cave of the Hearts’ exhibition will be launched on 20 May 2018 at the Sutra Gallery and will continue until 20 June 2018. For more information please visit sutrafoundation.org.my.
You can follow A.Prathap on Facebook (Prathap Ace).
Written by Sophie Bakx.