Magnum ki Tasveer – Exceptional Photographs of India

Emily Jane Cushing shares a note on the Magnum ki Tasveer photography exhibition. 

India: Seagull Foundation for the Arts, Kolkata.

Magnum ki Tasveer, a collaboration of Magnum Photos and Bangalore’s Photo Gallery, opened first in August 2012 at Mumbai’s Institute of Contemporary Art with its truly insightful and thought provoking images of a diverse and multifaceted India. The exhibition combines images shot through the lenses of eight internationally acclaimed photographers all associated with Magnum Photos and in under a year has journeyed India from Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore to its most recent showing at The Seagull Foundation for the Arts in Kolkata featuring fifty-six dazzling images.

Magnum’s engagement with India began in the late 1940’s with founding member Henri Cartier- Bresson famously capturing the last days of the funeral for leader of the Indian nationalist movement Gandhi in 1948. Bridging the sixty years of Indian history that followed, the images document the on-going developments in India through changing styles and fashions and varying subject matter. Many featured photographers are not Indian but have travelled the sub-continent for many years documenting a changing Indian landscape and society. One may think India’s radiant colour and light may be enough to draw the eye of a world renowned photographer however, the selection of photographs go deeper than exterior beauty; some depict dark moments from the famines of the past and moving portraiture of a suffering people.

One of the highly regarded Magnum artists featured in the Magnum ki Tasveer is Indian photographer Raghu Rai, born in in Jhhang which is now part of Pakistan. Rai’s wide-angled shots capture a collection of complex human emotions and often, as seen in his early photographs of the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984; these are heart-wrenchingly raw. Apart from this event Rai’s earlier work focussed on images of Missionaries of Charity founder Mother Teresa, by whom Rai had been particularly moved. His later pieces, some of which have been auctioned by Saffronart, concern a cosmopolitan India, one very much alive with traditions and customs and a landscape decorated by both urbanisation and rural indigenous culture.

Wrestlers through the painted gate. Paharganj, Delhi, India.2009 Image Credit;

Wrestlers through the painted gate. Paharganj, Delhi, India.2009
Image Credit;

The Swiss photographer Werner Bischof is one of the artists who has travelled India extensively, capturing delicately composed portraits whilst doing so. In 1951 Bischof was commissioned by Life magazine to shoot images of the famine in Kolkata; the poignant work shown is a compelling colourless shot of this era. Among the works by Bischof in the Magnum ki Tasveer is this image of a man, with his body stretched across packed sacks of grain in Kolkata he is visibly drained and malnourished. Knowledge of the troubled environment in which this man was living adds to the evocative nature of the work.

One of the youngest and newest members of Magnum, Olivia Arthur, selected the Ramnami sect from Chhattisgarh, central India, as her subject. The portraits show clearly the distinctive tattoos unique to the sect, who are known as the untouchables, which represent objection towards the repressive caste system. This particular shot shows clearly the tattooed face of a sect member with the name of Lord ‘Ram’ inked across it.

Also a member of Magnum is internationally renowned photographer Steve McCurry, two distinctive aspects of his work is the use of coloured vignettes and the frequent portraiture with subject making direct eye contact with the viewer. An example of both these elements is the image ‘Red Boy’; taken during the Holi festival of colour the young boy is smothered in vivid red dye.

More information of the Magnum ki Tasveer exhibitions is available here.

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