Biographical Sketch
Press Release
Back to Sunil Janah's Home Page
books documentaries exhibitions

sunil janah - outline of working life

  • Photographer and journalist for the Communist Party of India, 1943-47, working as the photo editor of the CPI paper People's War/People's Age, 1943-1946.  Recorded, during this time: (a) the Bengal-Orissa famine of 1943-44; (b) the South India famine of 1945 (covering its focus, in what is now Andhra & Karnataka, with Margaret Bourke White); (c) India's peasant, labor & independence movements; and (d) India's partition.

  • Free-lance photojournalist, based in Calcutta, 1947-1967, and in Delhi, 1967-1979.  Work included assignments from the Govt. of India and associated agencies, such as the Damodar Valley Corporation and the India Tourism Development Corporation, as well as from advertising agencies.  Photographed India's agricultural, mining and metal industries, and development projects.  Continued recording: India's urban, rural and tribal life; political and cultural luminaries; classical dance; architecture and temple sculpture.  Taught photography in Calcutta.  Photographed sites in Eastern Europe.

  • Worked for the United Nations organisation in Burma, Malaya and Thailand in 1957, and in Geneva and Paris in 1958-59.
  • Head of the Department of Photography at the School of Printing Technology, Calcutta, from 1958 to 1967.
  • In 1966, one of the judges for The Inter Press Photo Contest, held in Moscow.
  • In 1972, awarded the Padma Shri (a national honour) by the Govt. of India, for outstanding achievement in his field.
  • In 1980, moved to London, U.K. Continued, into this century, taking photographs in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America, until rendered unable by increasing loss of vision. Also continued, till present (2003), darkroom-printing and writing work on exhibitions and books.
  • Note: The items below were added in 2012 June, following Mr. Janah's death.
  • in 2003 September, moved to Berkeley, California, U.S.A. Continued to work daily, till 2010, on his final book, assisted by his wife, Sobha, his son, Arjun, and at times by their visiting friend from London, Dr. Brian Watson
  • January 17th-18th, 2004 -- untimely death of daughter, Monua, in Menlo Park, California.
  • In 2012, awarded the Padma Bhushan (a high national honour) by the Govt. of India.
  • May 18th, 2012 -- death of wife, Dr. Sobha Janah, his caretaker and supporter till her end, at age 85.
  • June 21st, 2012 -- death of Sunil Janah, at age 94.


books of his photographs

  • The Second Creature, Signet Press, Calcutta, 1948 (design and layout by Satyajit Ray).
  • Dances of the Golden Hall, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, New Delhi, 1979 (text by Ashoke Chatterjee, introduction by Indira Gandhi, foreword by Yehudi Menuhin).
  • The Tribals of India, Oxford University Press (India), Calcutta, 1993. 2nd ed. 2003.
  • Photographing India, Oxford University Press (India), 2012 (expected in November).

books illustrated with his photographs

  • Mahatma Gandhi, by Jawaharlal Nehru, Signet Press, Calcutta.
  • India Brandt, by Arthur Lundquist , Stockholm.
  • Dschai Hind, by Harry Sikorvsky, Leipzig.
  • Ancient India, by D.D. Kosambi, London (Routledge & Kegan Paul), Toronto & New York (Random House).
  • Bullock Carts and Motor Bikes, by Beth Roy, New York.
  • On a Tree of Trouble, by Beth Roy, New York.

some books that contain his photographs along with those of others

  • Kama Kala, by Mulk Raj Anand, Nagel Press, Geneva.
  • Indian Temple Sculpture, by A. Goswami, Rupa & Co., Calcutta
  • Orissan Temple Sculpture, by A Goswami, Oxford Book & Stationery Co., Calcutta
  • Margaret Bourke White, biography by Vicki Goldberg, Harper and Rowe, New York (cover photograph).
  • Liberty or Death, by Patrick French, Harper Collins, London (some photographs of Indian leaders and important events).
  • India - A Celebration of Independence, Aperture Foundation, New York (a catalogue accompanying the exhibition of the same name).
back to the top


    Documentary films on his work and life were made by:
  • The BBC, London, early 80's;
  • Independent Television, Birmingham, early 80's;
  • Doordarshan (Television), India, 1996.


one-man shows

  • Calcutta, 1952 and 1953, and New Delhi, 1965.
  • Berlin, Rostok and London, 1972.
  • Prague, Bucharest and Sofia, 1975 / 76.
  • London at the South Bank and at the Barbican; and Oxford, at the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, 1984. (along with the paintings of the poet Rabindranath Tagore, on the 125th anniversary of the poet's birth).
  • New York Overseas Press Club, 1985.
  • Oxford, Wolverhampton and several other cities in the Midlands, 1987.
  • New Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay, (Retrospectives), 1991-92.
  • Havana Bienelle at Havana, Cuba, 1992.
  • Merida, Mexico, 1994.
  • New Delhi, 1996 - by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA)
  • Preston at the Harris Gallery, and London at the Nehru Centre, 1997-98;
  • [Update - 2004 May]

group shows

  • Festival of India exhibition, at The Photographers Gallery, London, 1982
  • Fotofest 1990, at Houston, Texas, 1990.
  • India - a Celebration of Independence, an exhibition organised by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Aperture Foundation at Philadelphia, London, Milan, Virginia, New Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay) and Chennai (Madras), 1997-98.
back to the top.
Biographical Sketch
Press Release
Back to Sunil Janah's Home Page
Comments, Questions? email