Photographs often serve as important chroniclers of history. By bringing alive the works of photographer and photojournalist Sunil Janah (1918-2012), Making a Photograph at Experimenter attempts to make a slice of history from the Nehruvian period more accessible. A mix of his works is on display in Kolkata for the first time in decades.
Known best for documenting the Bengal famine of the 1940s, Janah subsequently went on to be commissioned for a number of projects to document the then-newly independent India’s strive towards modernism. This meant that in the 1950s, Janah travelled around the region as he documented the germination of significant projects such as steel plants in Bhilai, coal mines in Bihar and factories in Bengal. Janah, buoyed by his Leftist allegiance, perhaps found personal momentum as he documented India implementing Nehruvian plans of attaining a degree of industrial self-sufficiency to strengthen its nascent economy. Though it were the jarring photographs of the Bengal famine that helped etch Janah’s name in public memory, these commissioned black-and-white photographs serve as chroniclers of both the times he was photographing as well as the breadth of his repertoire. However, Janah’s expertise in the craft is visible in how his photographs clicked in the absence of 21st Century digital paraphernalia are still arresting in the manner in which they tell their stories — men hanging from scaffoldings at an industrial plant or empty steel vats at another location, waiting to churn raw material in them.
The title of the present exhibition at Experimenter is borrowed from American photographer Ansel Adams, whom Janah greatly revered. Making a Photograph will be on display at Experimenter, Ballygunge Place from February 3 to March 26.
Pictures: Courtesy of the estate of Sunil Janah, Swaraj Art Archive & Experimenter Kolkata