A world full of mirrors

Visual Arts - Uddalak Mukherjee

  • Published 19.12.15
Lucknow, India, 2002 © John Stanmeyer/Courtesy The Deepak Puri Collection, MAP

Tasveer and the Harrington Street Arts Centre presented Legacy of Photojournalism (December 3-16), an exhibition of the photographs that make up the Deepak Puri Collection. A number of luminaries, Pico Iyer notes cheekily in one of the essays in the book that accompanies the show, are members of "Deepak-istan". They include not just grateful photographers who worked with Puri - TIME's South Asia General Manager and Photo Editor for over three decades - but also politicians. Iyer writes that in the early 1980s, Strobe Talbott, who had worked with TIME, was seen being whisked around by Puri on a vehicle so that he could buy clothes before meeting the Afghan president.

Distressed, passionate - often influential - individuals found an ally in the resourceful Puri. Little wonder then that some of the photographs in the exhibition bear personal signatures as well as warm notes. Their settings, diverse and global - Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tibet, and so on - complement Puri's sphere of influence.

Photojournalism shares a symbiotic - unevenly fruitful - relationship with conflict. Some of these works capture the prisoners - citizens and nations - of such turbulence. Christopher Morris's spectral image of a group of armed men looking intently at a space made foggy by smoke and dust is one example.

The other contributors ferret out the lives of those who have disappeared through the cracks of public consciousness. Sebastião Salgado captures coal workers in Dhanbad in a moment of candour and defiance. The three men stare back at the frame, demanding recognition and respect.

Varanasi, and its myriad but clichéd attractions, dominate the visual narrative of India. Adam Ferguson, however, manages to convey the schizophrenic quality of life in India. The photograph, that of an aircraft flying low over a Mumbai slum, bears evidence of the tangled web of affluence and misery that engulfs modern Indian cities. Raghu Rai surprises us with a photographic moment that is both simple and sublime. A rooster, some rocks, a towering tree and distant hills in a village in Karnataka evoke a sense of stillness and wonder. There is also John Stanmeyer's engaging print of a man staring into one of the several mirrors inside a cluttered shop in Lucknow (picture). The photographs that are a part of Puri's collection serve a similar function to that of the mirrors in Stanmeyer's image: each has something different to show about the world.