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India Through the Lens

In 1947,two years after the end of the World War II,four of the greatest photographers of the time came together and formed an agency called Magnum Photos.

Written by Zaira Arslan |
August 24, 2012 2:25:34 am

In 1947,two years after the end of the World War II,four of the greatest photographers of the time came together and formed an agency called Magnum Photos. Robert Capa,Henri Cartier-Bresson,George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour — scarred by the effects of the war — created Magnum to “reflect their independent natures as both people and photographers”. A year later,Bresson travelled to India and photographed the last days of Mahatma Gandhi and his funeral,thus beginning Magnum’s association with India.

In the years since,the international cooperative — that,since its inception,has been owned and governed by its photographer members — has seen a number of its members live and work in India for varied periods of time. They have documented everything — from the festival of Holi to everyday life of labourers,to unique tribes from different parts of the country. Now,a selection of seven photographs each by eight photographers of Magnum will be on display at an exhibition,which is being held in association with Tasveer Arts,titled “Magnum Ke Tasveer,Magnum’s Vision of India”.

It opened on August 23 at ICIA House,Kala Ghoda,and will continue till September 1. It will travel to Delhi on September 14 and be on display in the city till September 25 at Gallery Art Motif,Lado Sarai; then Bengaluru,Ahmedabad and Kolkata next year. The show marks Tasveer’s second collaboration with Magnum,the first being a show that celebrated the golden age of Hollywood,in 2010.

These photographers — Marilyn Silverstone,Raghu Rai,Werner Bischof,Ferdinando Scianna,Bruno Barbey,Olivia Arthur,Abbas and Steve McCurry — have all spent a considerable amount of time in India,with some even having lived in the country for 10-20 years. While there are other Magnum members who have worked in India,these were selected for a number of reasons. “We wanted to focus on the more cohesive and thoughtful series that the agency’s members have produced over the years,” says Nathaniel Gaskell,co-curator,Tasveer Arts,adding,“It also showcases the changing styles and concerns of photojournalists over the years.”

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Rai,one of India’s most recognisable names in the field,is the only Indian member of Magnum,which he joined in 1977. His selection for this show comprises photographs taken in various parts of the country. One of them shows a group of apparently high-society men and women sitting leisurely at a lunch party in Delhi. “It was a cold but sunny winter afternoon and the sun was forming beautiful patterns,” he remembers of the setting for this photograph. Another one is a contrasting image of a group of slum boys sitting on rocks near the international airport in Mumbai,gazing with admiration at an aeroplane flying overhead.

American photographer Silverstone was sent on a three-month assignment to India in 1959,but ended up moving to New Delhi and living there till 1973. Her black-and-white photographs for this show include an image of the Dalai Lama taken at the opening of the Tibet House in Delhi in 1965,and one of Jacqueline Kennedy and her sister Princess Lee Radziwill returning from the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur with their hostess,the Maharani of Mewar,which was taken in 1962.

On the other hand,McCurry — an American photographer who shot to fame with his photograph of the young Afghan girl with haunting,light eyes on the cover of National Geographic magazine in June 1985 — travelled to India reporting for it. While his work,over the years,has included covering various areas of international and civil conflicts,his images for this show are far more festive and colourful.

Among the other 35 photographs on display are Bischof’s black-and-white images of Bharatnatyam dancer Anjali Hora getting ready for a performance in Mumbai in 1951. These were among the first pictures taken by Magnum members in India. Arthur,the youngest photographer of the lot,who was born in 1980,moved to Delhi in 2003. In 2005,she did a series on the Ramnami sect in Chhattisgarh,a group of untouchables whose tattoos are a form of protest against the oppression of the caste system.

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