Cop Shiva believes that he is still a village boy even though it has been many years since he left Ramnagar, his birthplace and came to Bangalore in search of a livelihood. “Everybody needs jobs and I have not studied much. I have studied only till the 10th standard. I used to work in different kinds of jobs but I was very good in sports. Because of that reason, I applied for the police services and got it”. Before becoming Cop Shiva, the photographer he was Shivaraju BS, the policeman and even before that he worked as railway policeman. The need for a secure job was important for him as he was the sole breadwinner for his family. “My job as a cop gave me a lot of strength, it has resulted in me respecting people and has taught me how to deal with people”, he says with a smile. This helped him a lot in the long run when he started capturing the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary stories through the lens.
Although he was happy about his job, Shiva had an artistic side which hadn’t yet seen the light of day. He recalls his days as a young boy when he used to read novels and was fascinated by Kannada art films. Apart from him, nobody in his family had any affiliation with the arts. “During my free time, I used to work as a program coordinator at 1 Shanthiroad art gallery. I used to go there and attend the exhibitions and I helped director Suresh Jairam in running the place”. This was the moment for him to discover his passion. He met a lot of artists from different nations who came to the gallery as part of residency programmes. By this time he had taken charge of organising events there and helping out the artists in building their projects. He was also in charge of documentation and picked up a camera for the same. “I started out with a small camera and I was always surrounded by artists, filmmakers, photographers. Over time, I realised that I wanted to do something similar”, Shiva says. But why photography? The answer lies in his 14 years of service as a policeman. He was always out on the streets, surrounded by people, people and more people. This made him understand their lives and as he was a local guy, things were all the more convenient for him. “It is easier to work within your community or within your own people. I feel that as an artist, you always have to work with your community; you have to look around within your circle. No need to look somewhere else”, he says. This resulted in him creating two of his very finest projects Being Gandhi and I Love MGR. Both of these projects have been exhibited in countries like the US, UK, Switzerland and Bangladesh. The former project was recently displayed at The Frank Museum of Art in Otterbein University, Ohio. He remarks that the Gandhi project which started in the year 2009 is still ongoing. “There was a time when people thought that Bagadehalli Basavaraj (the man impersonating Gandhi) was mentally ill. But now they respect him more than ever”, his voice has a tone of achievement.
Shiva has had a knack for looking at what he calls the “hidden” and this has been sort of a driving force for him to keep looking for new subjects. There are untold and ignored stories of people hiding in plain sight. He believes that one has to be curious and observant of the things happening in his/her surroundings. It is not entirely necessary that one has to go to faraway places to document something when there is so much that is waiting to be discovered in your own neighbourhood. And this is clearly reflected from his most recent project titled Ecstasy which chronicles the many obscure festivals and rituals happening in Bangalore. In a time when media has decided not to bring these facets of life to the mainstream, Shiva believes that these stories can be unearthed only if one is constantly observant. For him, this might be capturing some tree or wall while people around you wonder what on earth is there to take a picture of. The eye of a photographer finds beauty in the most mundane. “It is difficult to describe how I have developed that instinct, it is a connection in your mind itself”, he says. He has been a witness to the change this city has gone through but his eye as a photographer still revels in the way he was brought up. “I have been living in this city for a long time now but I still consider myself as a village boy. Maybe the way you look at things is what matters. For me, I think the city is changing only for a certain kind of people”, Shiva quotes.
Pictures from I Love MGR (L) and Being Gandhi (R) Source: copshiva.com
For a photographer, consistency of work is paramount. True, there are times when one may not be able to find the perfect subject but that doesn’t mean one should get disheartened. The reason why Shiva chooses not to take names of people whose works he has admired is due to the fact that many of them have given up photography altogether. “The thing is, now it is easy to buy a camera and consider oneself as a photographer. But you constantly have to keep continuing your work. Only then you will get a good grip, you will get good subjects and it will be possible to create a good body of work”. Of course, there have been times for him when the project reaches a point where it moves slowly due to various factors. It takes time to build up a connection with a person as a subject and that requires a lot of planning. It is a two-way process in which the subject has to be comfortable with the artist as well for a fruitful outcome. For Shiva, a project can go on for as long as ten years but it can never actually reach a point of conclusion because there will always be a new perspective which will mushroom up. He gives the example of his Gandhi project and goes on to say that now he is finding new ways to project it differently. There are a lot of ideas and some of them might not work out but that doesn’t count as a failure.
Looking back at his life as a young boy from a small village, Shiva regrets the fact that he wasn’t born 20 years earlier. With gleaming eyes, he goes on to describe how as an artist it is necessary to look back in the past because it shapes who you are; all your experiences and ideas are noteworthy. “You can compare them and maybe work on an idea which came to you five years ago”, he reveals. His love for films has been a constant for around 20 years and every now and then he has an urge to work in that direction. As of now, this ambition is kept for another day because there are always financial aspects to consider first. No matter how ambitious his aspirations have been, his family has been a constant support for him. “My mother and sister don’t know much about art but they are happy with what I am doing and they are confident about me because I started working when I was 15 years old. I took care of my sister, my nephews. They are all settled now” he says with a smile.
At the onset of his career, Shiva was working rigorously without taking any breaks but now, he has reached a point where he can slow down a bit and reflect on what he has done. But still, he feels that there is a lot that needs to be done. One of the things that he wants to make a reality from his long list of to-dos is to travel across the country. He has been to many places abroad; he recently attended a three-month residency programme in Sweden and there is an upcoming one in Switzerland. “Because of my life and job as a policeman, I couldn’t travel much. There are a lot of things I have missed” he says. Apart from that, there are three projects in the pipeline which will be seeing the light of day soon.