INTERVIEW: Harikrishna Katragadda

Fòcas Programme Director Katherine Parhar interviews Fòcas India shortlisted artist Harikrishna Katragadda, a photographer based in Mumbai, about his project ‘you can’t step into the same river twice’, and his developing interest in documentary practice.

© Harikrishna Katragadda

F: ‘You can’t step into the same river twice’ is a wonderful title. It refers, of course, to the Ganges, from which you made your cyanotypes. Can you tell us what the title means to you?

 H: The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was famous for the saying “No man ever steps in the same river twice,” implying constant change as the fundamental essence of the universe. The Ganges flows from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal in India, sustaining livelihoods and irrigating farms along its long journey. However, unregulated construction of dams and water drawn for industrial and agricultural usages has drastically reduced its flow. Toxic industrial effluents and untreated urban sewage has severely contaminated the river. Three decades of efforts and policies instituted by various governing bodies, the recent being a budget of 3 billion US dollars to clean the river, have not yielded much. Through the title, I want to evoke the fragility and ephemerality of the river which is both present and in the process of disappearing. The resultant cyanotype images bear signs, traces, residues and deposits of the river that is forever in flux.

F: The Ganges is of course as polluted as it is sacred. Did you choose to make cyanotypes as a way to reflect the river’s chemical instability?

H: Despite the deep reverence that millions of Indians have for the Ganges, it is reduced to a filthy drain. Cyan colour, of course metaphorically evokes the river, besides the cyanotype process allows chemicals to interact with surface of the image. I make cyanotype prints with light impression and mark-making using chemicals and contaminants which are site-specific found materials. This process alters the image at the level of composition. My approach is an intuitive process based on chance and accident. The resulting prints that bear burns, tears, creases are not mere images of the contaminated landscape, instead become the contaminated landscape.

© Harikrishna Katragadda

F: You pursue projects about community and environmental sustainability in India. What issues are you working around at the moment?

H: I am also interested in performative aspect of the cyanotype process. Recently I spent 24 hours at one of the main sewage drains in Varanasi, making impressions of the sewage foam onto the cyanotype paper at the beginning of every hour. This made me contemplate deeply the cyclical nature of time and our place in the Anthropocene.

I live in Mumbai and I want to extend this process to the Mithi river, which is the main arterial river of the city. I am also exploring other expressive mediums like the artist book. I have made a book on the Ganges cyanotype work which I would like to disseminate as a work of advocacy to provoke governing bodies to act on the impending ecological crisis.  

© Harikrishna Katragadda

Harikrishna Katragadda graduated with a Masters degree in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin and started his career as a photojournalist in New Delhi. He has travelled extensively in India to document communities and environmental sustainability for his personal projects. His work was awarded by the India Habitat Centre and the National Foundation for India. His photobook “I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you” was shortlisted for the 2016 Alkazi Photo Book award. His editorial features have appeared in many publications including Geo, Stern, Vanity Fair and the BBC.