There is one thing common in all the portraits exhibited on the second floor of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vaastu Sanghralaya (CSMVS) Museum in Mumbai. Walking past the photo of a shy Sushmita Sen or a smiling Arundhati Roy, a dapper Ram Kumar in a tweed jacket or a playful MF Husain in his studio, the easy camaraderie between the subject and the lensman is evident. In the photos, India’s Who Who seem to be smiling into the lens as if for a friend.
Lensman Jehangir Nicholson, one of the most important collectors of Indian modern art, was a friend to many. His collection of photographs of these stalwart is being celebrated in the exhibition “Portraits of a Collector” by CSMVS and Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation. The show is a part of the Focus Photography Festival Mumbai whose theme is “crossover”. The exhibition sees Nicholson in transit between the worlds of photography and art.
“Long before he dived into modern art, Jehangir Nicholson fell in love with the camera. He spent his early years recording sights, events and people. He would frequent all kinds of events — weddings, art shows, music concerts, political rallies and car races (his other passion), but never without his lens,” says curator of the show, Kamini Sawhney.
His camera offers collages of life and lifestyle between the ’70s and ’90s. The exhibition has four sections — dedicated to film, society personalities, art and politics. Industrialist Simone Tata, writer Arundhati Roy, art gallerists Dadiba Pundole and Shireen Gandhy have been clicked at various events.
Details of the art world emerge in a series of black-and-white portraits of MF Husain, and photos of SH Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar and Tyeb Mehta. They have been captured in comfortable and homely setting, either next to their work or laughing at a joke.
Even politicians relaxed for Nicholson’s camera. An unusual image is of Indira Gandhi taking a break from a radio interview. Another frame is of Mother Teresa in black and white. “You see Jayalalitha with a regal air of entitlement. Sheila Dixit gives a friendly vibe while Menaka Gandhi is reserved. He could capture people in their element,” says Sawhney.
While the art collector ventured easily into genres of street, wildlife and landscape photography, it was his portraits that stood out. “He was a people’s person. Once, he clicked a picture of Anju Dodiya with her baby and liked it so much that he framed and presented it to her. It was not about the photographs, it was about the people too,” Sawhney says.