Text Version Exhibition (NY '98) Home Page Sunil Janah's Home Page

A historic exhibit, in New York, of 300 rarely seen photographs by Sunil Janah Gallery at 678 Aug. 15 - Sep. 25, '98
678 Broadway
(212) 260 0867.
Aug.20, 6pm

[banner: Sunil Janah Photographing India 1942-1978 Curator's Note]

S unil Janah, 80, has been a legendary figure in the Indian photographic scene since the 1940’s. As a photographer and reporter for the Communist Party of India's newspaper People’s War, and later, People’s Age, his photographs of the people’s struggle for independence were widely seen and disseminated across India in the 40’s. Unusually, the publications had a sophisticated use of both photography and illustration, with the artist Chittoprasad as Janah’s comrade on the editorial team. [photograph of Sunil Janah, 1930's]
Under PC Joshi, then the General Secretary of the party, a large number of artists, intellectuals, actors, poets and writers joined the party or were associated with it through the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) or the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). [caption: Sunil Janah, early 1940's]

[photograph of Janah, Bourke-White and Rangnekar] As an active party worker, Janah developed a ‘Marxist Humanist’ photographic style which became the hallmark of the movement and led to his early reputation. It was this which led American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White to seek out Janah, who took her on his trips across India in 1945-48 when she was on assignment for Life magazine. Janah was photographing the momentous events and figures in the last decade of the freedom struggle as well as keeping a visual diary of his friends and comrades, which have come down to us as a rich record of a heroic moment in India’s modern culture.
Sunil Janah, Margaret Bourke-White and
Comrade Rangnekar, Bombay, 1945

After an upheaval in the party in 1948 when Joshi and many of the ‘liberal’ members were evicted from the party, Janah returned to Calcutta and set up a studio. He became interested in photographing dance, and, combined with his passionate photographs of India’s sculpture and traditional architecture, made a body of work which became a document of the rediscovery of the classical traditions in the first decade after independence. Many were published in books, the Illustrated Weekly of India and Marg.

He continued photographing the peasant working the land, and with increasing industrial assignments, documented both the industrial worker and the huge industrial projects which were coming up in the decade of hope. Most remarkably, he was photographing the little known tribes across India along with the anthropologist Verrier Elwin and made a unique record of a segment of India’s society which had remained on the fringes for centuries. [photograph of Jinnah & Gandhi]
Gandhi and Jinnah at their talks which failed in Bombay, 1944. India was partitioned in 1947 and Jinnah formed Pakistan.

[photograph of strikers] Viewed as a whole, Janah’s work is an epic vision of a time of tumultous change. Sadly, it has remained largely outside public view for decades. This exhibition of over 300 images is an attempt to put the work out in public and is being conceived as a display of an archive. There are many vintage prints, as well as work prints, contact prints and notebook pages. Janah did most of the printing himself over different periods of time, and many are one-of-a-kind prints. He has an elaborate printing technique where prints are bleached, intensified and toned.

This is the first time many of these works are being shown and the exhibition is in the nature of a homage by a younger photographer. To my generation of artists in India, the period represented by Janah’s work is a source of great inspiration though it is poorly documented. I hope this exhibition leads to both a historical and critical reappraisal of Janah’s ouevre and marks his position in India’s modernist movement, and indeed in the international photographic pantheon.

The exhibition also serves as the finale for the year-long commemmoration of the 50th anniversary of India’s independence. It is Janah’s first major showing in New York.

- Ram Rahman , August 1998

Striking mill workers, Bombay,
New Age, mid 1940's
[photograph of Sarojini Naidu and Gandhi]
Sarojini Naidu and Gandhiji

[photograph of Muria tribal boy] [photograph of Nehru]
Muria tribal boy, 1950's
Jawaharlal Nehru, Anand Bhavan, Allahabad, 1939. This negative was found by Janah in July 1998 and has never been printed before. Janah was in the communist underground and was a courier between them and the Congress party. This picture was shot after delivering letters to Nehru.

August 15 - September 25, 1998.
Artists reception Thursday August 20th 6 PM
Gallery at 678, 678 Broadway, New York, 2nd Floor, between Bond & Gt. Jones.
Open 7 days a week, 10 AM - 7PM. Tel 212 260 0867, Fax: 212 982 3681.
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Text Version Exhibition (NY '98) Home Page Sunil Janah's Home Page