Going Gentle

A photographer looks closely at his dying father

01 July, 2016

WHEN THE PHOTOGRAPHER Rahul Kumar Das purchased his first camera, decades ago, his father asked to have a good portrait taken, “because we may need it in the future.” This request rings especially poignant in the wake of Sanguinity, Das’s photographic series showing his father’s struggle with deteriorating health in the last three years of his life. Das started the project in 2011, after his father suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed. Witnessing his father’s agony, Das said, “fueled my creative process.”

For the series, Das focussed on “various parts of my father’s body, my parents’ moments of sickness and loneliness, and their surroundings.” Following his passion for still-life art, he often photographed objects such as chilli peppers and icicles, to act as metaphors for his father’s pain. “As a son, I couldn’t take his misery away,” he said, but using these objects to express that misery let him feel he was helping alleviate it.

Das often found it challenging to “switch from one role to another”—between first being a responsible son, and second an artist. He said his father’s “confidence and patience” aided him greatly, and the man’s unflappable attitude through his suffering inspired the series’ name.

While Das began shooting to help himself and his family cope with a loved one’s illness, the series soon took on broader relevance, touching on themes of old age, familial devotion and death. Now, he understands one of the work’s central ideas to be the importance of end-of-life care. When the elderly are neglected, he said, it can create “loneliness that manifests itself as disease.” Since deciding to publish Sanguinity for a wider audience, he has come to relish the connections that others draw between his work and their own experiences.

Still, some of the most fulfilling rewards of Das’s work remain deeply personal. “This project takes me back to the time I spent with my dad,” he said. “When I look at all the images, I always feel my dad’s presence.”