Published in Culture Trip on August 13 2014.
India has a legacy of cultural variety and deep-rooted artistic expression. Staying true to that history, the nation is fast producing a generation of photographers rooted in the diversity of the country and at the same time looking outwards, seeking inspiration from different sources. We present to you ten Indian photographers who have captured moments so evocative that they demand attention.
Sooni Taraporevala has many feathers in her proverbial cap. Besides being an acclaimed photographer, she is also a filmmaker and a screenwriter. A Harvard graduate specialising in English Literature, Film and Photography, Taraporevala started her career as a still photographer. The centrepiece of her photographic career was a coffee table book of her photographs entitled ‘Parsis: the Zoroastrians of India – A Photographic Journey’. The project, a labour of love conceived over a time span of more than 20 years, offers a comprehensive glimpse into the Zoroastrian community within India, revealed only to Taraporevala’s trained eye. Photographs from this series have been exhibited at the gallery Chemould Prescott Road, Bombay; the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi and at the Tate Modern, London.
Prabuddha Dasgupta’s three decade-long career has left an indelible mark on the Indian photographic community. Despite having no formal education in photography, Dasgupta painted a portrait of modern India, which was both frighteningly honest and evocative in its simplicity. His book ‘Women’ published in 1996, picked up a taboo topic of female nudes and gave it its rightful place in Indian visual culture. Dasgupta’s work has been exhibited internationally and published in various publications. In 1991, he also received the coveted Yves Saint Laurent grant for photography. Dasgupta pushed boundaries and redefined the contemporary aesthetic by infusing art into routine life, and thus today he is one of India’s most distinguished photographers.
A protégé of the acclaimed Raghubir Singh, Ketaki Sheth has painted a poignant picture of urban identity, visual rhythm and the city spirit. Born in Bombay (as Mumbai was then known), she began by capturing unfolding snippets of life in the throbbing metropolis of her hometown; the urban chaos and the sense of individuality she gained in this way both attracted and concerned her. She has since worked on other series of visual documentation, the most notable being ‘A Certain Grace: The Sidi: Indians of African Descent’. The series visualises the lives of the Sidi community, with whom Sheth spent five years. She is the recipient of the Sanskriti Award (1992) and the Higashikawa Award (2006) for Best Foreign Photographer.
Though Delhi-based Chandan Gomes is a relative newcomer to the photographic community, that hasn’t stopped him from creating a splash in the visual world. At the age of 23 he became the youngest photographer to receive the India Habitat Centre Fellowship for Photography; since then, Gomes has exhibited at the Delhi Photo Festival and the Chobi Mela VII. His photo series entitled ‘The Unknown Citizen’examined the societal impact that the 2012 Delhi gang rape case had on the consciousness of Indians. The protests that took place following this traumatic incident are captured by Gomes through a brutally honest lens, which shows the outrage and indignation of countless Indians. Complementing his photographic musings and his background in philosophy, Gomes also writes fervidly about his chosen medium.
Homai Vyarawalla, who started her career in the 1930s, is regarded as India’s first female photojournalist. Popularly known as Dalda 13, after the licence plate number on her first car (DLD 13), she kick-started her career at a time when women were discouraged from studying, let alone getting a job. Vyarawalla paid little heed to social conventions and was at the forefront of documenting India’s freedom struggle. She captured epochal moments in Indian history such as Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, addressing a euphoric mob, and Gandhi’s cremation. The monochromatic records capture a part of history that is far behind us yet lives on through Vyarawalla’s images.
Dayanita Singh’s website describes her as a bookmaker who works with photography. Her work does indeed blur the line between photography, art and bookmaking. The visual process is not complete once the photograph is clicked; she extends the photograph and weaves it with other images to create a visual series that acts as a photographic chronicle. She tackles subjects, both unassuming and eminent with the same amount of sensitivity and celebration. Besides books, Singh has also expanded her display style to include portable ‘museums’, which are wooden structures that open out like accordions and hold 70 to 140 photographs. In 2013, she had a major retrospective exhibition, Go Away Closer, at the Hayward Gallery in London.
After obtaining his BFA in Photography from Parsons School of Design, Bharat Sikka has been involved with various photographic projects that combine documentation with an artistic aesthetic reserved for fine art photography. His subjects fluctuate between landscape and portrait, street and studio, art and life. He offers a glimpse of a contemporary India, which is under the constant flux of social and cultural change. In his series on ‘Indian Men’, Sikka gives his subjects with an underlying poetic sensitivity, enabling the personality of his subjects to shine through. He has been published in several publications such as Vanity Fair, Time Magazine, The New Yorker and Vogue India.
Raghu Rai’s passion for photography started when his brother gifted him a box camera. This initiated a lifelong love for the medium, which prompted him to pursue a career as the Chief Photographer for The Statesman. In 1971, his work caught the attention of Henri Cartier Bresson, who helped him become a part of Magnum Photos, an international photographic cooperative. Rai has captured India in all its essential facets, publishing a number of books of which Raghu Rai’s Delhi, The Sikhs, Calcutta, Khajuraho, Taj Mahal are notable. Some of his most recognisable and haunting images are from the documentary coverage of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984, which convey the deep sense of tragedy and loss around this event.
Since 1996, Anita Khemka’s has worked in the realm of social documentary, photographing people living on the margins of society. She has worked largely with sexual minorities, prostitutes, mentally handicapped individuals and HIV positive subjects. Besides altering social attitudes towards these communities, Khemka also seeks to bring to fore the individuality of these complex subjects in a sensitive and subtle manner. Her work was also the subject of a documentary called Between the Lines, which explored the lives and conditions of the hijra or eunuch community of India. By dealing with taboo and off-limit themes, Khemka’s body of work has given not only a face, but also an identity to India’s ostracised citizens.
Pablo Bartholomew’s introduction to photography started at home, under the guidance and tutelage of his father, the acclaimed art critic and photographer Richard Bartholomew. He started his career as a photojournalist and documented conflict and marginalisation in society. At the young age of 20, Bartholomew won the World Press Photo award for his series on morphine addicts in 1976. In 1984, he went on to receive the award again for Picture of the Year for his unforgettable image of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. His photographs have since been published in the New York Times, Time, Life, National Geographic and The Guardian.