BY HARIKRISHNA KATRAGADDA
The river Ganga is both a conceptual and a real figure, occupying a space that is epic and monumental in Indian imagination. It is worshipped as a goddess by millions, but it is also one of the most polluted rivers in which untreated sewage and toxic industrial effluents are dumped along its 2400 km journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.
The Ganga receives 220 million gallons of raw untreated sewage every day, and effluents from more than 1000 industries. The cities and villages along its course dispose garbage into it, and treat the holy river as a sewer. Despite the government’s efforts to clean up with an investment of more than `2,700 crore on the Ganga Action Plans I and II in the last three decades, and about Rs. 3000 crore in the last two years, a recent report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) blames the dams and blocks placed on the river at many places, reducing the water’s flow. The report has shown that not only has the clean-up mission failed, but that the water in the river has also got filthier.
The first part of my project is Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, an important cremation site for Hindus. Charred by hundreds of pyres daily, this is a landscape contaminated with coal, ash and partially burnt human flesh. The other part of my project is a study of the toxic chromium released by the tanneries in Kanpur, which finds its way into farms, food, animals, people and finally into the Ganga.
I make cyanotype prints with light impression and mark-making using site-specific materials with a process based on intuition, chance and accident. The resulting prints that bear burns, tears, creases are not mere images of the contaminated landscape, instead become the contaminated landscape.
They not only represent the materiality of the photograph, but also reflect the erasures and eruptions on the tactile relationship between the river and the people who interact with it. They are marked by signs and traces where the river is both present and in the process of disappearing. These ruptures are metaphors for the fragility and ephemerality of the river, which despite the weight of its deposits and residues is forever in a flux.
This work was recipient of the 2016 India Habitat Centre Photosphere award.