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The following review, by Jyotirmoy Datta, of the exhibition "Photographing India 1942-1978", appeared in India Abroad , New York Edition, Friday August 28,1998 ( Vol. XXVII No. 48).

The review appeared on page 48 (THE ARTS, Photography). It is reproduced here courtesy of India Abroad and Mr. Datta.


Exhibition looks deep into India, 1942-78

By JYOTIRMOY DATTA

NEW YORK - What image does the word "India" bring to the mind? Its dark holes? Or its snow-clad peaks? The Bengal famine of 1943? The communal riots of 1946? The refugees crossing its borders in 1947? Or its peaceful noncooperation movement, which was like no other form of political protest? Poet Rabindranath Tagore's Santiniketan or Mahatma Gandhi's Sevagram? The beauty of its temple stone sculpture or the innocence of its tribal people?

Whatever your concept of India, it is bound to be enriched by the 300 or so images featured in the exhibition "Sunil Janah: Photographing India 1942-78" now showing at Gallery At 678 in Manhattan's East Village. It is an epic show, with historic acquiring specific faces and locations, and morality and religion and esthetics whispering troubling questions from behind the photographs. It is only fitting that Vicki Goldberg has devoted a whole page to this show in the Aug. 21 issue of the New York Times .

Although a legend in his own country, Janah's works are hardly known in the United States. As Goldberg notes, a few of Janah's photographs have been traveling in the United States in a show and a book called "India: A Celebration of Independence 1947-1997", and a larger exhibition was shown at Fotofest in Houston in 1990. But other than some 20 photographs at the Overseas Press Club in 1985, this is the first time his work has been shown in New York. Indeed, this is the first time many of these works have been seen at all, and nowhere, not even in Janah's native land, has such a varied and rich solo show ever been organized.

For Ram Rahman, photographer-son of dancer Indrani Rahman, who has curated this landmark exhibit, this was his "Discovery of India". To young Indians, Janah's works are often heard about but rarely seen. This show should travel to India, tour all the metro cities, and find a resting place at some national museum.

Even for one who has a fair enough acquaintance with Janah's subject, this show offers many revelations. Through Janah's lens, the faces of the young Communists of the early 1940's in India are suffused with an idealistic glow. He was looking for a pancea from the famines and the religious riots, which Communism seemed initially to offer. Yet he was truthful and seeking. He realized that the masses were with the Mahatma. He studied Nehru with loving awe. He recorded large crowds and lonely individuals.

If his photographs of the bloated corpses of riot victims on Calcutta streets fill one with horror, the portraits of the Bengali poet Bishnu De, the novelist Manik Bandopadhya and the painter Jamini Roy inspire love and hope. These photographs are the record of a moral and esthetic traveler. From political events, he shifts his attention to industrialization, the huge factories that Nehru called India's modern temples.

He move on to India's ancient temples, with their sculptured dancers, and to living ones, including Indrani Rahman. He then leaves the cities to roam the hills and forests of aboriginal India. It is a photographic Mahabharata which is due to close at Gallery At 678 on Sep. 15 * but which will long linger in the mind.


* web-note: After being reorganized Sep 5 (to accomodate an exhibition of paintings in the same hall), the show has been extended to Sep 25.
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