Light: Essay by Herbert Ascherman

L i g h t

The Photography of Unni Krishnan Pulikkal
Rabindranath Tagore’s GITANJALY

my light,
the world-filling light,
the eye-kissing light,
heart-sweetening light!
Photo-Graphis. Photo-Graphy. Photography. Greek for Light Writing. The embodiment of the magic union of Art and Science. The physical manifestation of the All Seeing Eye. And to whom does that eye belong? Unni Krishnan Pulikkal, the man behind the camera? The One who chooses the precise moment to see, to point and to capture? Or the One to whom the image is shown, for whom the emotion of response is a sharp suck of breath or a quiet moment of closed-eyed contemplation?
Ah, the light dances, my darling,
at the centre of my life;
the light strikes, my darling,
the chords of my love;
the sky opens, the wind runs wild
laughter passes over the earth.
Sunlight sparkles upon still waters. The dewdrop’s eye rests on a bent leaf. A butterfly’s wing kisses softly. Light dances through Nature. Unni Krishnan Pulikkal follows camera in hand. The Light is his Path and guides his Journey. He is given vision to observe, awareness to sense, quiet to understand. He does so, deliberately, making each image a sacred moment of commune between himself, his God and their Natural World.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light.
Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.
The Butterfly is Unnikrishnan’s symbol. It adorns the walls of his home, the dashboard of his car, the necklace surrounding his wife’s slender neck. He has chosen this delicate creature to embody the transience of Life and the fragility of Art. Through his camera and calm demeanor, he has collected thousands of specimens, yet unlike the lepidopterists with his net, Unnikrishnan leaves each as he finds it, free and unfettered, basking in the warm Keralan sunlight.
The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling,
and it scatters gems in profusion.
Unnikrishnan walks in silent grace. A single leaf poised delicately on a moss covered dark grey stone waits reverently. Unnikrishnan stops, bows appropriately and asks the blessing of the moment. The moment is a communion with the Great Spirit, the Eternal Over Soul which has granted him the gift of recognition. The image is before him. The moment waits. His calm demeanor senses the reverence of the space and time that surrounds them both. He takes a photograph. The moment, the essence of that moment is captured, preserved, rendered. We see what he sees. We feel what he feels. We hear the silence he hears and the emptiness of thought he experiences. The photograph of a leaf and stone becomes a touchstone with something all of us have experienced, yet so very few are able to relive or remember. Unnikrishnan has done so in colors, providing us the common denominator for a universal language that we share and understand.
Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling,
and gladness without measure.
The heaven’s river has drowned its banks and the flood of joy is abroad.
Unnikrishnan Pulikkal’s photographs invite us to journey with him. We see the Earth, Air, Wind, Water and Fire that is the stuff of us all. We see common objects and the smallest of creatures raised to the height of reverence by an inquiring and observant eye. We are guided by his respect for Nature as well as for Mankind. Through his photographs we are shown the universe in the simplest of terms. He reduces the complexities of life to a single beautiful moment, and invites us each to enjoy it with him.

Rabindranath Tagore has seen Unnikrishnan’s imagery and prays in Song 22:

(We) stand mesmerized,
wondering how you sing
your notes hold the world spellbound –
the light of your music
lights up (our) universe.

This then, is the photographic verse and vision of Unni Krishnan Pulikkal.

Herbert Ascherman, Jr.
March 14, 2009
(Herb is a master portraitist and platinum printmaker from Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
Widely published, he is an experienced teacher of aesthetics of contemporary photography and a prolific practitioner of photographic fine art.)

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