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A surreal montage of images

he’s not interested in the usual or the common. The road less travelled is right up his alley. The trick, Santi Ram Mandal says, is to think big and let your imagination run completely wild. That is what he did 30 years ago, and it’s paid off, in terms of acclaim and satisfaction.

The 51-year-old photographer is not interested in just clicking snaps, but in creating pictures. Photography is his hobby, but making a montage that tells a story is his passion. The winner of over 150 awards and 850 acceptances, including gold medals and entries into halls of fame, says: “I have tried to do something out of the ordinary, to make people think. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, but I love what I do.”

Mandal is invited regularly for lectures and workshops, from Delhi to Dhaka; he has served on the judges’ panel, both national and international; his work has been recognised from Belgium to Buenos Aires, beside being selected and published in a UNESCO book. “At first, my work was rejected in India. Everyone told me it was too weird. In the 80s, when I got serious and started sending my work to exhibitions abroad and winning accolades, suddenly India started showering me with recognition,” he says.

The commerce graduate from Calcutta University is not interested in photo-journalism, or in presenting fact through his images. Surrealism is his style, and for that, he sometimes sets the scene (Lost Harmony). Usually he clicks several snaps with his preferred Nikon 25mm wide camera, (“it adds the depth I need”) cuts and pastes and then re-photographs (Apocalypse), doing all the developing in his own darkroom and lab at his S.N. Banerjee Road home. Dark, gloomy and desolate come to mind, but never boring, dull or uninteresting. Black and white is his forte, because “I find colour in it”.

Although Mandal’s day job is managing the 130-year-old family business of household paints, his dream is to inspire the younger generation the way he was awe-struck by his favourite lensman, Jerry Ulsman. “I don’t expect everyone to like what I do, but lovers of creation will appreciate it,” he explains.

The life member of the Photographic Association of Bengal and Federation of India Photography has some images on permanent display in Bangladesh, Croatia and Romania, and was the only Indian whose works were selected for an exhibition in Japan last month. He is now busy producing a series of images highlighting relevant issues, like the environment. “I want to send a message through my work. I am like a painter, shaping an image on the canvas.”

In the near future, Mandal wants to publish a book of guidelines “to help the youngsters explore areas that are not yet fully discovered”.

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