AT THE MET

The pioneering photographer who captured beauty amid the chaos of modernising India

Quartz india
Quartz india

Born to an aristocratic family in Jaipur on Oct. 22, 1942, Raghubir Singh received his first camera, a gift from his brother, at the age of 14.

That marked the beginning of his lifelong fascination with photography, which would eventually lead to a career spent living in Hong Kong, Paris, and New York. As a photojournalist, he contributed to the New York Times Magazine, Time, and National Geographic, among others. But right up to his death in 1999, and despite all his travels, Singh’s most important subject was his native India.

Until Jan. 02, 2018, the Met Breuer, part of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is hosting a retrospective of Singh’s work, featuring 85 of his photographs shot in the country, alongside examples of the colourful Mughal-era court paintings that he was inspired by.

At a time when colour photography was dismissed as unserious by many professional photographers, Singh embraced it to capture the many different realities of modern India, recording vivid street scenes from almost every corner of the country. Taking inspiration from legendary European photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eugene Atgèt, as well as American street photographers like William Gedney and Lee Friedlander, Singh went on to define an Indian version of photographic modernism, and his images revealed a whole new way of looking at and understanding the country.

“Among Singh’s great achievements was the creation of an unparalleled pictorial atlas of the cultural life of India at the end of the twentieth century,” curator Mia Fineman writes in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. “Using a handheld camera and colour slide film, he recorded the nation’s dense milieu in complex, friezelike compositions, teeming with incident, divided and multiplied by reflections, and pulsating with opulent colour,” she adds.

Here’s a selection of the photographs on display:

72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_ Man Diving, Benares Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Man Diving, Ganges Floods, Benares, Uttar Pradesh, 1985. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_ Ganapati Immersion, Chowpatty Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Ganapati Immersion, Chowpatty, Bombay, Maharashtra, 1989. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_ A Marwari Wedding Reception Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. A Marwari wedding reception in south Calcutta’s Singhi Park, Calcutta, West Bengal, ca.1972. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_Employees, Morvi Palace Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Employees, Morvi Palace, Gujarat, 1982. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_Dhabawallah Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Dhabawallah, or professional lunch distributor, Bombay, Maharashtra, 1992. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_Barber and Goddess Kali Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Barber and Goddess Kali, Calcutta, West Bengal, 1987. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_Crawford Market, Bombay Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Crawford Market, Bombay, Maharashtra, 1993. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_Pavement Mirror Shop, Howrah Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Pavement Mirror Shop, Howrah, West Bengal, 1991. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_Subhas Chandra Bose statue Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Subhas Chandra Bose Statue, Calcutta, West Bengal, 1986. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_Vendor and Clients, Bundi Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Vendor and Clients, Bundi, Rajasthan, 1997. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
72 dpi 1200 x 800 pix Raghubir Singh_ Victoria Terminus, Bombay Copyright 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh
Raghubir Singh. Victoria Terminus, Bombay, Maharashtra, 1991. (© 2017 Succession Raghubir Singh)
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