T S Satyan



Jawaharlal Nehru, Parliament House, New Delhi, 1962. Photograph/T S Satyan

Jawaharlal Nehru, Parliament House, New Delhi, 1962. Photograph/T S Satyan

Neha Mutreja explores the life and times of one of India’s greatest chroniclers, the legendary T S Satyan.

There are occasions when you see the work of a photographer whose images have constantly captured slices of human life. His iconic work, both gentle and personal in nature, shows a relentless pursuit to narrate thousands of stories in a single moment. We are talking about Tambarahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer, better known as T S Satyan, who spent his entire life capturing the extraordinary in the everyday.

Befriending the Camera
Satyan had humble beginnings. He was closely attached to his family but had to stay separately for a period of seven years, when he was fi nishing his graduation. The period away from home was painful and sometimes felt lonely, but this did not last too long. He befriended his classmate Kailasam, and the two became thick friends. One day, Kailasam showed him a Kodak Box Brownie camera. Fascinated and intrigued by the gadget, Satyan’s eyes lit up. This casual moment between the two friends was the starting point of a lifetime of photography, and he never looked back. The incident not only initiated Satyan into a career of photography but also brought them even closer.

Illustrated Beginnings
Over the next few years, the two friends spent a lot of time together, learning the art of photography and honing their skills. They would spend hours rifl ing through the pages of the magazine Illustrated Weekly of India and admiring the photographs with wide-eyed wonder. In fact, he had once said that if it were not for the Illustrated Weekly of India, he would have perhaps have never become a photojournalist. The magazine had a page that would publish photographs shot by amateurs and Satyan and Kailasam would both send in photographs for the same. In fact, every Friday, T S Satyan would eagerly await the mail train because that used to be the day when the magazine would arrive in Mysore. According to him, “it was the pride and prestige of seeing my name in print in a magazine of such stature that pumped my adrenaline.” Satyan always enjoyed shooting his hometown, Mysore. In his autobiography Alive and Clicking, he wrote, “Mysore, with its marvellous ambience, seemed an ideal place to indulge in my wanderlust when I was growing up.” As he kept shooting, he took up some alternate jobs to earn some money. In 1948, when he was relaxing at home, he received a simple piece of paper that turned out to be the turning point in his professional life. It was an offer letter to work for the daily newspaper Deccan Herald.

A Personal Journey
Describing the power of photography, Satyan had once said, “Photography makes us feel that we can hold the whole world in our hands.” Whether it was his photojournalistic work or his images of daily life, his photographs would almost always have a personal perspective. In his autobiography, he had written, “The pictures are not the result of encounters between events and me. They are a witness to interesting moments in time and in the lives of people I have met. Photography has enabled me to save them from vanishing into thin air and to give them a life of their own.”

Against All Odds
Satyan worked at Deccan Herald, Bengaluru for two years after which he never looked back. From there, he went on to working for Illustrated Weekly of India, pho

Tags: Neha Mutreja, Great Master, portraits, better photography, June 2011, T S Satyan, Renowned Photographer