"His pictures disorient the person looking at them."
Photographers are continually innovating their creative process to showcase the clarity yet mayhem of the world. This includes Indian photographers.
Photography means ‘drawing with light’.
An image is a memory that can always be remembered – seen again. Photography is all about appreciating the little things in our lives.
These little things may be forgotten, forsaken – some subjects may die or wither away. However, the memory of them imprinted onto a picture is what makes photography art, or a philosophy, even.
Pictures capture the beauty of the mundane.
This is why photographers are artists, they can photograph anything surrounding them because everything around them can become art.
The following geniuses are among the greatest photographers in India.
These artists have managed to showcase cultural and social limitations. However, they have also managed to address these restraints and implement change.
DESIblitz explores their story and the meaning of their pictures that have been shared with millions.
Raghu Rai: Disturbing Beauty
Raghu Rai took on photography in 1965. However, what made him want to become a photographer was a donkey, not people nor landscapes.
His passion for photography began when he decided to accompany a friend to photograph children in a village nearby. He remained captivated by a donkey standing in a field close by.
In an interview with The Guardian, he recalled how much he enjoyed himself whilst chasing the donkey. In fact, every time he approached him, the donkey ran away.
Rai continued to do so for nearly 3 hours, as that experience was also entertaining for the children of the village.
In the end, both he and the animal were tired of running. It was in that way that he succeeded in photographing the donkey, with the landscaping behind him fading into soft light.
Even though 40 years had passed by, Rai was capable of remembering that day with incredible details.
He explained that his brother, also a photographer, had entered the picture into a competition by The Times.
It ended up being published, and the amount of money won was enough for him for one month. He added:
“I thought, ‘This is not a bad idea, man!'”
In the early 1970s, his exhibit in Paris showed the world his astounding photographs.
A man named Henri Cartier-Bresson remained fascinated by his work. 6 years later, in 1977, the same man decided to nominate Rai to join Magnum Photos.
In 1980, Rai started working as a Picture Editor/Visualiser/Photographer for India’s leading news magazine, India Today.
His picture essays based on social, political and cultural themes resulted in his work being the talkative point of the magazine. It also contributed to the changes that were taking place at the time.
As a matter of fact, Rai himself was a witness to the most significant changes happening in Pakistani society.
According to Magnum Photos, Rai completed an in-depth documentary project on the 1984 Bhopal industrial disaster.
He was one of the first photographers on the scene of the chemical disaster and therefore a witness. Rai stated:
“It is important to be a witness and at times it’s very painful. At times, you feel very inadequate that you can only do so much and no more.”
Whilst photographing the disaster, Rai focused on the burial of a single unknown boy, says the Guardian, as they wrote:
“His blinded eyes staring blankly out of the rubble.”
“It became a landmark photograph, all the more disturbing for its strange beauty.”
The result of his documentary work led to the creation of a book and exhibitions that toured India, Europe, America and Southeast Asia.
His purpose was to raise awareness of the ongoing effects on the lives of the gas victims.
In fact, numerous of them remain uncompensated and have to continue living in the contaminated environment surrounding Bhopal.
Conclusively, Rai explained that he wasn’t proud of his achievements. He said:
“It’s fulfilling to know one is going deeper into the layers of complexity of my country.
“I like being among my own people. I merge with them.”
In 1971, Rai was awarded the Padmashree – one of India’s highest civilian awards ever given to a photographer.
Residing in Delhi, Rai continues to work for Magnum Photos and flourish among industry elites.
Dayanita Singh: Interconnected Changes
Dayanita Singh is part of the top Indian photographers. With her father not wanting her to pursue her artistic dreams, one day in 1987 she convinced her mother to allow her to do so.
In fact, the money that would have been given to a dowry was used by Singh to leave India to study at the International Centre of Photography in New York.
According to the Financial Times, she decided to return to India “naively believing that my photographs could make a difference”.
However, after joining the London-based photo co-operative, Network, Singh realised that her purpose was not served.
She wanted to make a difference, she wanted to help change India’s social problems for the better.
However, she felt like using her pictures to earn money, not to make a change as she said:
“I could not go on earning a living from the distress of others.”
In this way, the photographer started overlaying the western culture with the Indian one, picturing the mixture between the west with the traditional behaviour, interiors and dresses of Indians.
Singh’s photography finds beauty in little things, which may seem simple and insignificant. However, her mentor, Walter Keller, found that she had a particular talent.
“She could isolate an object or a person, and the resulting image had a kind of stillness that demanded concentration from the viewer.
“As if she was transferring her own pleasure in looking to theirs.”
Whether her photos are of rooms of empty chairs or of a lightbulb, they satisfy a sense of curiosity by letting the viewer discover the images, which do not have an obvious narrative.
Therefore, her photography is an art that attempts to expand the way in which people relate to images.
For example, books are a secondary item to exhibit the work of artists like painters and sculptors – they are reproduction.
However, as photographs themselves are a reproduction of reality, what really matters is the quality of the paper, the print, the way pictures are presented: bound into a book or framed in a gallery.
Singh never felt these were ever good enough. She decided to make a change, go beyond the limits.
To this day, her gallery is a ‘pop-up’ that presents what she calls ‘book objects’.
These are mobile museums that allow the visitors to edit the pictures, change their order and the way they are displayed. They can stand onto the floor, on tables or be framed to the walls.
Also, they are not typically stuck behind glass. Viewers can interact with them – use them to create a new story, a new possibility, because all photographs are interconnected.
The galleries in which photographs simply stood on the wall, hidden behind glass, felt like death for Singh – as she stated:
“It felt like the death of photography.”
“My pleasure is in playing with them, you know? Having 40 prints on the table and rearranging them and finding different connections, looking at them with different people.
“The pleasure of photography is that it changes so much depending on what it’s next to. And you’ve seen how people look at a photography exhibition.
“I thought, ‘Why should photography be this thing stuck on the wall?’
“I’m dreaming about making accessible exhibitions for India, not expensive ones for the gallery, just for normal people who are interested in photography and visual things.”
All Singh desired was to make a difference for the Indian community. Which she did, for those passionate about the culture of photography, creativity, self-discovery and interpretation.
Arjun Mark: At His Highest
Arjun Mark is a freelance fashion and advertising photographer from Mumbai.
He was introduced to photography in college, whilst studying visual arts. He promised himself to continue his artistic exploration and since then, he has not looked back.
For four years after graduating college, Mark worked as an assistant photographer with famous leading photographers of India.
In this way, numerous opportunities were presented on his path, both in the country and abroad.
With his first commercial assignment in March 2006, Mark realised that ‘objects around him were no longer impassive; they were ideas’.
In 2010, Mark was nominated for two awards at the distinguished international competition, Photography Masters Cup.
The Director of the awards, Basil O’Brien, explained:
“The Masters Cup celebrates photographers who operate at the highest levels of their craft”.
Mark’s images contained in the collection, “The Nudes”, were found to be one of the most voted in the competition. O’Brien added:
“Arjun’s work represents contemporary colour photography at its finest.”
As a matter of fact, his photographs were featured in numerous popular magazines, which include Vogue, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire.
Mark became prominent for his advertisement photography, which featured various celebrities, like his favourite Farah Khan.
As a matter of fact, Farah Khan’s “Fine Jewellery” was one of the projects which led Mark’s work to be published internationally.
He also received the Award of Excellence at the Communication Arts Best of Photography Competition 2010-2011.
The worldwide recognition of Mark’s work was inevitable, as said by juror Jane Perovich:
“Original, authentically inspiring images that are emotionally accessible will continue to be the foundation for what informs us, makes us think and ultimately captivates us.”
Arjun Mark continues to reinvent his style of photography because he has the unparalleled desire to push the boundaries of his potential.
Rathika Ramasamy: Wildlife Inspiration
Rathika Ramasamy is a freelance wildlife photographer operating in Chennai, India.
Born in Tamil Nadu, India, she left her career in software engineering to follow her passion for photography.
After receiving her first camera from her photographer uncle, she began taking pictures of flowers and trees.
In 2003, Ramasamy visited the Keoladeo National Park, India. It was there where she studied the behaviours of birds and their various types, discovering a fascination for wildlife.
Her passion then started focusing on birds entirely. Ramasamy explained that what excites her is the moment she captures the image at the right time, after a long wait in the field:
“The more I observe them [birds] from close proximity, the more inspiring it is. There is a large variety of birds to explore and shoot.”
“Every shoot is different, and I always feel as excited as if it was my first shoot.”
In 2008, the ‘Birds of India’ chose Ramasamy to be among the Top 20 best photographers in India, impressively being the only woman to receive the distinction.
In 2015, she received the Inspiring Icon Award and the International Camera Fair Award. These were due to her remarkable achievements in wildlife photography.
Ramasamy was also invited to be the jury of various photography rewards, including the National Photography Awards 2015 and 2016’s Siena International Photo Awards.
According to News Bugz, she was the first woman to strike an international reputation as a wildlife photographer.
Rathika Ramasamy’s purpose, however, is to preserve nature for future generations. In an interview with 121 Clicks, the photographer was asked various questions about her successful career and wildlife.
Ramasamy explained her horror in witnessing deforestation, indiscriminate mining and industrial activities.
She goes on to emphasise how pollution and the destruction of wetlands lead to the loss of the natural habitats of animals and birds.
She emphasised the significance of teaching and educating everyone about the importance of nature, and the way to preserve it.
As a photographer, her role could still be substantial in achieving such thing as Ramasamy states:
“Photographs can convey much more than words.
“Photographs of wildlife connect nature to people, and thereby help increase awareness about wildlife and its conservation.
“It is particularly important to spread this awareness among youth and children.
“Photographs depicting damages to the environment make common people sit up and take notice.
“It can help people understand how certain human activities can wreak havoc on natural habitats and on wildlife.”
Ramasamy continues to contribute to nonprofit organisations with her wildlife photographs so that her work can be used to increase awareness to help preserve wildlife.
Prabuddha Dasgupta: On the Edge
Prabuddha Dasgupta was born in 1956 and was raised in the cultural chaos that followed a post-colonial India.
Initially, Dasgupta was a copywriter and then went on to teach himself how to photograph. He then began his controversial collection of portraits.
The urban Indian portraits of nude women were published with the intention to render the nude as acceptable in Indian culture.
In his work “Urban Women”, the subjects of the photographs are women who are often seen as only ‘attractive models’, meeting the Bollywood stereotypes.
However, the reason Dasgupta chose them as subjects is that he was intrigued by their personality, not their looks.
He could also find out whether they fit into their gender stereotypes, or if their characteristics were outside of those cultural parameters.
As a matter of fact, the different projects he took on mixed the order and art of the world he lived in.
It was Dasgupta who personally followed the wild nature of India’s frontier. In his collection “Ladakh”, Dasgupta explores the old Tibetan Buddhist way of life.
On Dasgupta’s official website, the collection on the edge of the Tibetan plateau of India’s last wilderness has been described as:
“A solitary journey through a tortured and beautiful land, in search of a metaphysical embrace that whispers to us the secrets of our inner landscapes.
“A visual communion with a fragile yet impressive culture in the throes of change, and a threatened landscape exploding with stark, uncluttered beauty.”
Adding it was:
“An enigmatic loneliness on the edge of everyone’s world.”
In addition, Dasgupta also pictured the Catholic community in Goa in his work “Edge of Faith”.
The 79 black & white photographs are a portrait of the Catholic community in Goa, freed in 1961 from Portuguese rule after 450 years.
The collection shows the community torn apart between the loyalty for the Portuguese culture and faith, and their post-Independence Indian identity.
Dasgupta’s official website says:
“Edge of Faith captures Catholic Goa in a haunting, but beautiful impasse—caught in a time warp between comforting nostalgia and a doubt-ridden, insecure future.”
Not only does this show the artistic value Dasgupta offered the industry, but the rarity of the beauty he captured.
Dasgupta’s last collection before his death in 2012 was “Longing”.
He wrote about the way it revolved ‘around the core of a pivotal love affair’, because it was a journal full of his memories of everyday routines.
They contained his family, friendships, the places he loved, the journeys he remembered.
However, this collection cannot be placed in a specific timeline, nor into a particular place. It is his personal work, his dreams and memories that he can constantly gaze at.
In the same way, every viewer can put their own context into the images photographed by Dasgupta, just as Geoff Dyer said in 2011.
“His pictures disorient the person looking at them.
“They attach themselves deeply to you while, simultaneously floating free of your conscious life and memories, refusing to become part of the documentary or circumstantial record.
“As evidence they are entirely unreliable and inadmissible.
“We are in the realm of dreams, and memories.”
Dasgupta’s work was published and exhibited both in India and around the world. His work is held in various institutions abroad, like in Italian museums and galleries in Brescia and Milano.
In 2012, he died at age 55 in Alibaug due to a heart attack.
A year later, a memorial meeting in his honour was held in New Delhi, India, where photographers Raghu Rai and Dayanita Singh paid their tributes.
The memorial finished with an audio-visual montage of all of the beautiful works Prabuddha Dasgupta produced.
Drawing with Light
The fascinating works of the photographers listed have shown appreciation for the little things in life. They pictured their passion on paper and served their creative purposes.
These photographers conveyed much more than words. With their ambivalent, extravagant and disturbing beauty, they succeeded in raising awareness for various causes.
However, creativity is limitless and other significant Indian photographers can too be part of this elite list.
Such as the first woman photojournalist, Homai Vyarawalla, who is commonly remembered by her pseudonym Dalda 13. Before passing away in 2012, her career documented the overthrow of British colonial rule.
Aristocratic photographer Raghubir Singh had lived all around the world, but the beauty of India pulled him back.
He captured the intersection between Western modernism and traditional South Asian in the way they pictured the world.
Founding member of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, Ram Rahman, is also a famous photographer in India. He leads in the resistance to communal and sectarian forces in India through its public cultural action.
Contemporary photographer Gauri Gill is also a notable photographer.
She has been described as “one of India’s most respected photographers” and “the most thoughtful photographers active in India today” by the New York Times and The Wire.
Also, Pushpamala N should be mentioned due to her entertaining contemporary Indian art. With her strong feminist work, the photographer is said to be seeking to subvert the dominant cultural and intellectual discourse.
Further notable photographers showcase the growing popularity of art and photography among Indians.
Founding member of India Nature Watch, Kalyan Varma, is a photographer, naturalist and explorer who specialises in environmental issues in India.
Artists like Gautam Rajadhyaksha. A leading photographer for celebrity portraits, pictured most of the icons of the Indian film industry.
Photographers and entrepreneurs like Sudhir Shivaram. Whose worldwide campaigns for wildlife protection raise awareness for nature with the intention of inspiring the world.
Creatives like Atul Kasbekar, a fashion photographer and Bollywood film producer. Recognised for his Kingfisher Calendar shoots and his position as honorary chairman of the Photographer’s Guild of India.
These photographers are true artists. Capturing the elegance of their surroundings whilst provoking thought rather than comfort.
The way in which they are able to direct the viewer’s eyes and heart is magical. Offering surface-level emotions whilst initiating numerous interpretations.
These photographers drew with light and continue to show the beauty of India by helping it.
They have flourished through their exhibitions and given a solid foundation for the future of Indian photography.