SHIVARAJU HASN’T QUIT HIS DAY JOB OF A POLICEMAN. IN FACT, HIS BEATS AS A COP AND A PHOTOGRAPHER OVERLAP A GREAT DEAL
Known these days as “Cop Shiva”, Shivaraju still works as a police constable in Bengaluru, even as his photography garners attention from the art world in India and abroad. His ‘Street as Studio’ exhibition featured in this year’s India Art Fair; he’s been invited to document Sweden’s embrace of refugees by the Swedish Art Council; and later this year has exhibitions planned for Switzerland.
His beats as cop and photographer are overlapping. “As a documentary photographer, my practice happens mainly on the streets, and my subject is always the human being and his deep rooted emotions. I capture the ordinary man in an extraordinary situation, and his conflict or dialogue with the surroundings,” he says. “As a policeman I have developed a very sharp eye, always attentive to the world around, looking for unusual things that can be problematic to society.”
Born to a family of farmers in Karnataka, Shivaraju grew up in the town where Sholay was filmed. Like millions of other rural Indians, he joined the police for the security of a government job. After relocating to Bengaluru, he discovered the 1 Shanthiroad gallery/studio, where he met many interesting visual artists, scholars, filmmakers and photographers— but it was on an assignment at his day job that he discovered a talent of his own. “The first project assigned to me [by the police] was to photograph the migrant labourers in the construction sites of Bengaluru,” he says. “That was a turning point for me, and when I decided to take my photography to the next level.”
That ambition is clearly evident in ‘Street as Studio’—a project in which Shivaraju explored the migrant’s fragmented relationship with the city by photographing workers in front of the murals commissioned by the city’s municipality to “beautify” the streets. The pictures contrast the garish paintings of heritage monuments, exotic animals, gods and goddesses, and spectacular landscapes to the hardscrabble reality of the city dweller.
“Photography gives me the flexibility and versatility to capture the reality the way I like to show it. I am very influenced by the magical realism art school, in which reality is shown through a curved mirror, and allows me to focus on the eccentric side of reality that many times goes unnoticed, showing the public act as a masquerade performance,” says Shiva.