A Myth of Two Souls is inspired by the epic tale The Ramayana. Drawing inspiration from the imagery associated with this myth and its pervasiveness in everyday Indian life, Vasantha Yogananthan is retracing the legendary route from north to south India. First recorded by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki around 300 BC, The Ramayana has been continuously rewritten and reinterpreted, and continues to evolve today. Yogananthan’s series is informed by the notion of a journey in time and space and offers a modern retelling of the tale.
A Myth of Two Souls mixes daily life with staged pictures combining a wide range of techniques, including colour photography, hand-painted photography, mixed media and video installation. Yogananthan’s practice has now grown so that alongside the crucial act of composing and taking a photograph, he conducts studio-based work to intervene and interpret images and introduce new narratives by playing with material forms.
In the theatrical portraits, inhabitants of the landscapes mentionned in the epic stage scenes from the tale that have left a mark on their imagination. Shot in black and white using a 4×5 large-format camera, these portraits have subsequently been coloured by an Indian artist using the ancient technique of hand-painting. The artist has been given a carte blanche and has chosen colors according to his own sensitivity and imagination – his vision overlaying on Yogananthan’s. Hand-painting was traditionally reserved for household portraits of wealthy patrons and has been subverted in Yogananthan’s photographs. He has applied this ancient art to depict the whole of society by using passersby as actors, regardless of caste, and by photographing outside of the studio he has expanded it into new territories – from modern metropolises to remote countryside.
Over seven years, Yogananthan has completed his own epic journey with thirteen trips to India to finish A Myth of Two Souls. The first five chapters of the project, Early Times, The Promise, Exile, Dandaka and Howling Winds were published 2016-2019. The last two chapters, Afterlife and Amma will be published in 2020. The Musée de l’Elysée (Lausanne, Switzerland) held the first solo exhibition of A Myth of Two Souls from February to May 2019. The exhibition travelled to Chanel Nexus Hall (Tokyo, Japan) in September 2019. In addition to these solo exhibitions, A Myth of Two Souls was selected by curator Kate Bush as one of three contemporary projects to be included in Illuminating India 1857- 2017, an extensive survey of photography in India exhibited at Media Space at the Science Museum in 2017 (London, UK). Publisher Prestel chose the photograph ‘Rama Combing His Hair’ for the front cover of Photography in India, a Visual History from 1850s to the Present (2019) written by Diva Gujral and Nathaniel Gaskell.
2018: Prix Camera Clara (Paris, FR)
2017: Foam Talent (Amsterdam, NL)
2017: ICP Infinity Award (New York, US)
2016: Prix Levallois (Levallois, FR)
2015: Magnum Photos International Award (London, UK)
2015: Magnum Photos Top 30 Under 30 (London, UK)
2014: Prix Scam Brouillon d’un rêve (Paris, FR)
2013: CNAP Aide à la Photographie Documentaire (Paris, FR)
Les Artisans du Regard (France)
Photographs: Vasantha Yogananthan
Black and white C-print hand-painted with watercolor:
Vasantha Yogananthan and Jaykumar Shankar
Archival inkjet print hand-painted with acrylic: Vasantha Yogananthan
Illustrated Black and white inkjet print:
Vasantha Yogananthan and Mahalaxmi & Shantanu Das
Text: Anjali Raghbeer, Arshia Sattar
Illustrations: Mahalaxmi & Shantanu Das
Kummer & Herrman
Design and development