The Jungle Book

Merging reality and fiction, French photographer Vasantha Yogananthan has just released the fourth chapter of his long-term project that revisits a classic Indian tale.

© Vasantha Yogananthan, from the book Dandaka, published by Chose Commune

Over 3,500 miles, eight years, and seven books, photographer Vasantha Yogananthan is undertaking the route from north to south India, following the steps of the country’s most famous tale, The Ramayana. The epic poem, first recorded by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki around 300 BC, narrates the struggle of the divine prince Rama to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana.

In the fourth chapter of Yogananthan’s journey, we reach the breaking point of the story. While the Prince has gone to hunt a deer for his beloved, the heroin is left alone and kidnapped by the King. The rupture in terms of narrative transpires in the aesthetical choice. It is as if, slowly, book after book, Yogananthan not only retraces a mythical journey, but also India’s art history.

© Vasantha Yogananthan, from the book Dandaka, published by Chose Commune

The first chapter used vernacular elements evocative of the tale’s origins in the 4th century; the second played on old lithographs; and the third revisited it with the help of an old book’s illustrations. This fourth chapter, on the contrary, takes us to the pop universe of 1970’s comic books. The peace, lyricism and faded tones of the first three chapters’ traditional iconography have left room to bright supernatural colours. “Even the painter with whom I started to collaborate in 2016 has expanded his palette. He is re-appropriating my images more and more and dares to be less realistic, which echoes the tones of the comic books even though he was not aware of it”, Yogananthan explains.

The rhythm intensifies compared to the previous chapters, with the text nearly gone here – the remaining words are those of the comic strips spread through the book, covering a part of the image and often prolonging it. “It makes the story clear, even to a reader not aware of the previous chapters”, Yogananthan says.

© Vasantha Yogananthan, from the book Dandaka, published by Chose Commune

There are also a few street signs that supports the story. Some images are the result of chance encounters, others are staged to fill in the story’s gaps, but all fall into place to feed the narrative naturally. “The beauty of the project comes from the fact that nowhere else than in India is magic realism that palpable”, he notes. Such as a boy wearing a sweater imprinted with a golden eagle – the same eagle that loses his life trying to rescue the princess.

Animals play an important role in that chapter – this fourth book is the green book, the jungle book. We leave the human kingdom to access the monkey kingdom, where the heroes meet their allies. And for the rest, you’ll have to wait till the next chapter.

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Dandaka by Vasantha Yogananthan

Published by Chose Commune // Design by Kummer & Herrman

Hardcover // 24.5 x 30 cm // 112 pages, 51 photographs and 13 comic strips // €50

BUY HERE

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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.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

PHM 2018 Women Photographers Grant
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