Hailing from the village of Jawaharlalpuram in Madurai district, M. Palani Kumar decided to pursue engineering as per the wish of his mother, a fish-seller. He graduated in B.E., E&I under the sports category. In 2013, while still pursuing engineering, Palani applied for a loan and purchased his first camera.
Palani worked as a cinematographer for the critically acclaimed documentary, Kakoos, a searing narrative on the lives of manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu. Within a couple of years, he had opened his first photography exhibition in Chennai, featuring the works of children of manual scavengers, who were trained through his photography workshops.
Palani is a full-time photographer with the People’s Archive of Rural India. A PARI fellow since 2019, he documents the lives of working-class women. He is also a member of the Pep Collective – a group of socially responsible photographers in Tamil Nadu.
Palani was recognized as one of the Top Ten Humans in 2019 by Anandha Vikatan, for his attempt to sensitize and visibilize the work of manual scavengers to an otherwise indifferent world. In March 2020, he received the Best Story of the Year Award from the Public Relations Council of India. In October 2020, he received The Samyak Drishti Grant, which was supported by PhotoSouthAsia. In November 2020, he received the Imagining the Nation-State Grant during the Chennai Photo Biennale. The photographs were later exhibited at the Ffoto Gallery, in Wales, UK. In March 2021, Palani received the Amplify Grant. He hopes to continue using his art form to shine a light on marginalized communities.
This bio was provided by the artist.
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Childhood, Lost: What M Palanikumar's photos of children of manual scavengers reveal, Photo Essay for FirstPost. by Kavitha Muralidharan, 12.Nov.2017
Innocence in Monochrome by Roshne Balasubramanian, The New Indian Express, 06.Nov.2017
Out of Breath: The lives of manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu, Photo Essay for The Caravan, 01.Jun.2020
Seeing Harsh Realities from a Different Angle, The Hindu, 28.Feb.2021