Images on Rivers’ Surfaces Captured through a Photographer’s Lens

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Renjith Madhavan, a freelance photojournalist, is on a mission to photograph rivers, capturing semi-abstract images of human figures on the water’s surface. He started in December 2021, journeying to 22 rivers in 18 Indian states, and the images that resulted are enigmatic reflections of humanoid figures.

In search of the perfect click

Renjith spent days on riversides, waiting for the perfect alignment of light, shadow, and movement to capture his pet muse—the shapes and forms on the water’s surface—on his lens.

“As shadows fall on water, they create unexpected patterns, textures and forms,” says Renjith, adding, “The water is like a canvas, reflecting images that the eyes cannot perceive. I like to call it Nature’s art.”

Amidst challenging circumstances, Renjith waited on the banks of the Ganga ghat in India’s ancient holy city of Varanasi for five days, managing to click a picture only at the end of the fifth day. “I keep clicking rapidly, sometimes over 1,000 clicks, and each frame was different. They look like paintings,” says Renjith animatedly.

The idea occurred to him one day when he serendipitously clicked photographs of indistinct shadow movements on river water.

“It fascinated me, so I started wandering through riverscapes, keenly observing the water surfaces. At times, I could discern shapes that resembled human forms, and that was when I decided to do a photo series on these ‘water humans’,” explains Renjith.

Though he started with rivers around his home town in Chalakkudy, Kerala, he expanded his canvas, covering Rameshwaram, Dhanushkodi, Tiruchi, Mysuru, Sangli, Varanasi, Agra, Mathura, Bodhgaya, Delhi, Gujarat, Kolkata, Guwahati and Cherrapunji before proceeding to Rishikesh, Haridwar and Devprayag and further north towards Manali, Ladakh and Kashmir.

Renjith recounts that during his unusual quest, some rivers yielded quickly while others proved difficult. He spent days at Delhi’s Yamuna ghat looking for that perfect shot but failed to take a proper one. The photographic enthusiast then travelled to Agra, where he attempted to photograph the river behind the Taj Mahal, but the trip was in vain. Finally, in Mathura, near the Vrindavan, he captured a picture from the Yamuna on camera.


Quit job to follow his passion

Later, consumed by a passion for the project, Renjith quit his job as a journalist for a regional language daily to devote time to shooting with his camera. However, he spent all of his savings in the process. Several times during his voyage, he was forced to return home to Chalakkudy due to illness or the cash crunch. Some friends and well-wishers assisted by crowdfunding the final stage of his journey. Renjith used buses to travel at night to avoid paying for accommodations. Once he arrived at a destination, he used Google Maps to find the next river.

Sharing his thoughts, Renjith says, “The whole journey has been arduous, but it has gifted me sights to remember for a lifetime! The vast stretches of land devoid of people near Kabani river at Nanjangud; walking through the Phalgu river, which had dried up and led to vast potato fields; the fluttering blue flags at Vrindavan in Mathura; the crystal waters of Lake Dawki in Meghalaya; the snowless, imposing Himalayan ranges at Leh…”

The last photograph in his collection is from Dal Lake in Kashmir, and the first was taken at Bhavanipuzha in Attappady, Kerala.

A self-taught photographer, Renjith was initially drawn to documentary photography. He has travelled across South India, covering 1,300 kilometres on a bicycle for the project ‘Swaas’, shown in 2018. A conservationist at heart, Renjith’s series of photographs, ‘A Biography of the Road,’ shows the remains of roadkill (remains of animals killed on the road by speeding vehicles). He even made a microfilm, ‘Larka’, on this issue, which won the best environmental film at the International Microfilm Festival held in Kochi in 2022.


Four of his photographs from the Transients series were showcased at the Safarnama Visual Art Exhibition organised by the COG India Art Foundation, and a solo show of his work, ‘A Portrayal of Indian Rivers’, was held at the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademi Art Gallery at Kozhikode.

Mission accomplished, what next

Eventually, Renjith aims to sell the photographs as wall art. This project has also been an inward journey, and he says, “To capture the transience of a moment on camera, one understands, is to let Nature take over. Just as we watch Nature, it watches us,” he utters.

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