Raghubir Singh is making headlines not in the newspapers or magazines but on Instagram. Indian fans on Instagram eagerly share the Indian photographer’s photos. With millions of fans on Instagram, the photographer maestro’s legacy it seems is well preserved.
Singh (1942–1999) is in a group of photographers who, armed with their cameras, captured the essence of the streets of the cities instead of the glamour of A-list actors and celebrities. The Indian photographer is well known for his documentary style and landscape photos of Indian streets. He worked for various well known magazines including The New York Times, National Geographic Magazine, Time, and The New Yorker.
He was one of the few photographers that had reinvented the use of color during a time when photography was considered a marginal art platform. The Indian photographer is often regarded as the finest photographer of his generation along with Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Stephen Sternfeld.
According to Mumbai-based photographer Swapan Parekh, Singh was an expert at using the flash. Flash was a vital part of the art that helped him highlight his vision. At the time, flash was popular only with photojournalists. However, Singh pioneered the use of flash in artistic photography as well.
Ketaki Sheth, whose work was displayed along with the great maestro at a recent exhibition at the Jhaveri Contemporary Art Gallery agrees that Singh was a mentor for later day photographers, especially when it came to artistic photography. She says that Singh had personally told her to use flash in her own works. He would tell her to go back to the photo scenes and shoot at close range while using the flash.
Today, artistic photography trends are in line with what had been endorsed by Singh through his works. The photos of today are bright and in vivid color unlike the dark, black and white photographs of the past. Singh used the technique as far back as the 1960s while working with National Geographic, which was one of the few magazines that printed in black and white.
Singh is well known for challenging the norms of photography prevalent at the time. He used to shoot on transparencies which are especially difficult to work with, as the results cannot be modified or processed similar to digital photography of today.
Most of the subjects of Singh’s photo shoots were ordinary people going about their lives. Whether taking photos in wealthy homes in Kolkata’s Marble Palace, or a group of women enjoying the rain in Bihar, he excellently captured the essence of everyday life with magnificent detail.
According to Sooni Taraporewala who had published a photo book called Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India, Singh insisted that she should shoot everything, even the mundane aspects of life. He even said to take photos of lifeless objects including statues to fully capture the moment.
At the end of the day, Sing’s published photo books look like visual poems that were collected into anthologies. His pictures provide a rather enticing glimpse of the heart of India. And this was clearly evident by looking at the works of the great Indian photographer that were put up for display at the Jhaveri Contemporary Art Gallery in Mumbai.