Photography 500 photos of India, from Independence to the present
Photographystreet photography

500 photos of India, from Independence to the present

Giorgia Massari

The photographs by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Kanu Gandhi, kick off the exhibition journey of a photo exhibition illustrating the socio-historical evolution of India, from Independence to the present day. It is titled “India Today: 17 Photographers from Independence to the Present” – an exhibition featuring over five hundred works displayed at the Magazzino delle Idee in Trieste, until February 18, 2024. The exhibition delves into challenging years, offering seventeen distinct perspectives on this theme. The photographers, all Indian, belong to different eras, allowing the exhibition to take viewers on a journey through seven decades of change, contradictions, and hopes captured through the lenses of artists who have made photography a tool for testimony and reflection.

Khanu Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi nella zona colpita dai disordini di Noakhali /Mahatma Gandhi in the riot affected area of Noakhali, Novembre/November 1946
Courtesy The Estate of Kanu Gandhi & PHOTOINK

It all begins in 1947 when India gains independence from Britain. From that moment, Hindus and Muslims engage in severe clashes leading to the exodus of many towards the two newly formed states – Pakistan and Bangladesh. This period also witnesses the assassination of Gandhi in 1948. The photographs by Kanu, his grandson, bear direct witness to the post-independence civil disobedience. The exhibition then proceeds chronologically. Through the lens of Bhupendra Karia, a teacher and theorist, we explore post-war rural India. Pablo Bartholomew guides us through the ’70s, a decade of enthusiasm and discovery on the streets of Delhi, Bombay, and Calcutta. Embracing the ’80s and ’90s, we encounter the work of Ketaki Sheth, capturing the metamorphosis of Bombay during the construction boom. Subsequently, Sheba Chhachhi, a feminist activist, marks a significant change in the ’90s with the series “Seven Lives and Dreams,” breaking the mold of reportage to explore the concept of reality.

Pablo Bartholomew,Mendicanti Parsi a Fort / Parsi beggars in Fort, c.1980. Courtesy Pablo Bartholomew & PHOTOINK
Sathyarani, I, Manifestazione contro il Sistema delle doti/Anti Dowry Demonstration, Delhi, 1980. Courtesy Sheba Chhachhi 

Raghu Rai‘s work, a member of the Magnum agency, spans from the ’60s to the 2000s, portraying the Indian subcontinent with a documentary eye. As we enter the new millennium, it’s interesting to see how Indian photography begins to address urgent themes such as LGBTQ+ rights, with works by Sunil Gupta, Anita Khemka, Serena Chopra, and Dileep Prakash transforming individual stories into universal narratives. Other poignant themes include Vicky Roy, who fled home at eleven, addressing the plight of orphaned children living on the streets, while Amit Madheshiya captures audiences of itinerant cinemas, symbolizing the rural and traditional part of contemporary India.

Vicky Roy, Mumbai, Maharashta, India, da/from Bachpan, 2018 ©Vicky Roy

The photography of the new millennium also embraces environmental and social issues. Senthil Kumaran Rajendran unveils the conflict between tigers and humans, Vinit Gupta bears witness to the struggles of indigenous populations against industrialization, and Ishan Tanka documents protests against dam construction. Soumya Sankar Bose commemorates the past with the reconstruction of the Marichjhapi massacre in 1979, while Uzma Mohsin explores the consequences of civil protest in contemporary India. The exhibition is enriched by 15 audio-video interviews conducted in India, providing an in-depth insight into the vision and inspiration of each artist.

Anita Khemka, da/from Laxmi, 2003-2020, © Anita Khemka
Anita Khemka, da/from Laxmi, 2003-2020, © Anita Khemka
Amit Madheshiya, da/from Cinema Travellers, 2010-2014 Courtesy Amit Madheshiya & PHOTOINK 
Amit Madeshiya, da/from Cinema Travellers, 2010-2014 Courtesy Amit Madheshiya & PHOTOINK 
Ishan Tankha, da/from Sommersi/Submerged. Abitanti dei villaggi lottano per il diritto alla sopravvivenza nell’India centrale/ Submerged. Villagers fight for their right to survive in the central India ©Ishan Tankha
Pablo Bartholomew, Dhodi, Zarine e/and Maya, New Delhi, 1975
Vicky Roy, Mayurbhanj, Odisha, da/from Bachpan, 2021
Photographystreet photography
Written by Giorgia Massari
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