07 January 2016

A Myth of Two Souls

07 January 2016 - Written by Gemma Padley

Inspired by the tale of the Ramayana, an ancient Indian poem written in Sanskrit, Vasantha Yogananthan’s image of two young boys merges fiction and everyday reality.

© Vasantha Yogananthan, from the series, A Myth of Two Souls

This image is from my series, A Myth of Two Souls, inspired by the myth of Ramayana, India’s epic poem written in Sanskrit. The series is a modern interpretation of the myth told through images shot across India. I found the story fascinating and thought it would be a great way to speak about India today but starting from a fictional point of view rather than by taking a traditional documentary approach.

I made this image during a month-long trip to Bihar, which is in East India. It was my third trip of the project. My assistant and I travelled around the state - one of the poorest in India. It’s a hard place to photograph in. We went from village to village and lived with local people for usually five or six days at a time before moving on. Few photographers visit because it’s so difficult to travel around. You need to invest a lot of time if you want to get interesting images.

I planned our itinerary in advance. I had a list of the kind of places and people I wanted to find and shoot, linked to the Ramayana, so that each image would tell a particular part of the story.

Obviously when you’re travelling a lot of things change depending on the landscapes and people you discover. We found this place on our first or second day, but I didn’t really know what to do with it - I started to shoot classic portraits of the people who live there.

We kept walking and then came back a few days later. I had an idea. In the Ramayana there is a chapter that tells how children were sent away into the wilderness so they could learn to live with nature. I wondered about finding two young boys and photographing them in the landscape.

I set up my tripod and was lucky because by chance two boys came into the shot. I shouted to them to stop and look in that direction. They were excited to play a part in a retelling of the Ramayana story. I took two or three shots using my medium format camera.

The idea is not to illustrate the myth directly but to give the viewer the various elements so he or she can make connections. If you look carefully at this image - to the upper left side - you can see a kind of cavernous black hole, and the two boys are looking towards it. In the Ramayana, the boys were born in the jungle and don’t know that their father is the king of India. So here they are looking into the future, although they don’t know exactly what that future will be.


Vasantha Yogananthan is a self-taught French photographer living in Paris, France. He is particularly interested in searching new narrative and aesthetic approaches to document people's ways of living. Follow him on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Gemma Padley is a freelance writer and editor on photography, based in the UK.


Behind the Picture tells the story of a single image by a photographer from the Photographic Museum of Humanity’s online community.

Written by

Gemma Padley

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