Indian Street Photography: Alive and Well

11 November 2011 - 6 January 2012

Street photography is thriving in India, having enjoyed an uninterrupted existence for over thirty years.  This exhibition presents a small selection of Indian street photography from the past three decades, featuring work by Ravi Agarwal, Pablo Bartholomew, Chirodeep Chaudhuri, Shahid Datawala, Dhruv Malhotra, Anne Maniglier, Zubin Pastakia, Ram Rahman, Riddhi Shah, Ketaki Sheth, and Sooni Taraporevala. Today’s street photography is spurred primarily by local artistic commitment and innovation, but also by radical demographic shifts of the population from rural to urban environments, by superabundant subject matter, and by urgent social issues. The Indian tradition of street photography first developed out of photojournalism, with contributing influences from Henri Cartier-Bresson and other foreign photographers. With the widening acceptance of photography as an art form in India, its street photography is getting well-deserved art historical attention.

These photographers must consciously decide how to grapple with critical conditions of poverty, overpopulation, and environmental crisis. What appears to be a positive form of bearing witness or searing social activism to one viewer may strike another as near-pornographic voyeurism—a spectacle eliciting pity—or worse, a picture that elicits schadenfreude, pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Some of the artists choose to tackle these subjects directly. Some make more subtle visual statements that are still loaded with social import. And some artists quite intentionally avoid urgent socio-political problems altogether.  No matter what kinds of images they produce, these photographers are all drawn to the practice of shooting on the street, making completely spontaneous visual sense of a moving kaleidoscope, to steal a phrase from artist Ravi Agarwal.