To commemorate the 50th anniversary of India's independence, the Alfred Stieglitz Center of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has organized a major traveling exhibition devoted to photographs of India. India: A Celebration of Independence, 1947-1997, on view at the Museum from July 6 through August 31, 1997, will present the work of some of that country's finest photographers, many of whom have never been exhibited before in the U.S., and also includes images by distinguished non-Indian photographers who have been drawn to the country over the past five decades. The rich variety of India's landscape and cities, the tumultuous years leading to its independence from Great Britain, the convergence of its ancient traditions and the modern world, and the diversity of its peoples and faiths are captured in images that show how artists have formed a deep bond to this complex and dynamic country. Michael E. Hoffman, the Museum's Adjunct Curator of Photographs, has selected some 250 images by 21 photographers, ranging from such established artists as Sunil Janah, Raghu Rai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Sebastião Salgado to a number of young and emerging artists.
The exhibition and its tour through North America, Europe and India are made possible by Ford Motor Company. The accompanying catalogue is generously supported by Eastman Kodak Company. Air India is the official airline.
A striking historical introduction to the exhibition is provided by the photographs of Sunil Janah (born 1927), a political activitist who began taking pictures as a young man in the early 1940s while on writing assignments for leftist newspapers. Janah's studio in Calcutta soon became a gathering place for important political and artistic figures--including Satyajit Ray and the great Indian classical dancers--as well as visiting Westerners such as the photographer Margaret Bourke-White and film director Jean Renoir. Janah created intimate portraits of Nehru and Gandhi, the leaders of the great struggle, and was also an insightful witness of the political rallies, protests, and marches that led to independence.
Raghu Rai (born 1942) is internationally recognized as one of the preeminent photographers of contemporary life in India, ranging from opulent temple gardens to the back streets of Calcutta. His work encompasses many regions and people from all walks of life, and has appeared regularly in Time, Life, Paris Match, and National Geographic, among other publications. His books include Mother Teresa, The Sikhs, Taj Mahal, and Delhi.
Among the prominent younger Indian photographers in the exhibition are Dayanita Singh and Sanjeev Saith, whose images reveal a keen awareness of a changing cultural identity. Other photographers take a more personal approach to the transformations they have seen in Indian society. Pamela Singh's work explores some of the new roles now available to women in India, from soldier to model to pool shark, while Ketaki Sheth chronicles the private moments of Indian actors and performers. Swapan Parekh's lyrical images illustrate stories of the past as it collides with the here and now.
India has also attracted eminent foreign photographers. Some in this project have lived in the country for many years, others continuously return in search of a greater insight into this multifaceted country. During his numerous visits, from the time of independence until as recently as 1980, the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (born 1908) captured the spirit of India and its people in beautifully composed black-and-white images. His photographs of refugee camps after Partition, or of beggars in Calcutta, speak with the same directness and passion as his image of Gandhi's funeral or of the Mountbattens on the steps of Government House at the moment of independence. The Paris-based Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has also visited India repeatedly, and during extended tours of various regions has produced indelible photographic tableaux of the Sandar Sarovar dam construction in Gujarat, coal mines in Bihar, and the building of the Rajasthan Canal. Among the new generation of Western photographers who have produced significant work in India are Mary Ellen Mark, whose powerful portraits and scenes provide an intimate look at dynamic Indian street life; Robert Nickelsberg, a resident of New Delhi who focuses on India's recent social and political conflicts; Mitch Epstein, who transports the viewer into the courtyards of New Delhi and Jaipur; Alex Webb, who juxtaposes the garish drama of Indian posters with the actual colors of Bombay; and Steve McCurry, who over 17 years has created a remarkable color portfolio of the country.
India: A Celebration of Independence, 1947-1997 is accompanied by a large-format catalogue with 172 fine duotone and four-color reproductions of selected works from the exhibition. The introductory essay was written by Victor Anant, a native of Kerala, South India, who is the author of numerous novels and poems, as well as journalistic reportage. Anant recounts his own experiences as a young participant in India's independence movement, and as an acquaintance of both Nehru and Gandhi; his poetic narrative explores the unique and complex identity of his country. The hardcover edition is published by Aperture; the softcover catalogue is published by Aperture in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
After leaving Philadelphia, the exhibition will travel to the Royal Festival Hall, London, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Knoxville Museum of Art. An identical exhibition will tour India concurrently, with stops including the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai.