With a camera gifted by a friend, when photographer Nemai Ghosh visited the sets of filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne in Burdwan in 1969, little did he know that this would be the beginning of over two decades of association. The photographs taken by Ghosh were to reach Ray through art director and production designer Banshi Chandragupta, prompting Ray to comment on how Ghosh had shot them exactly the way he would have.
The incident was recalled by Ghosh in an interview to The Indian Express in 2013. Best known as a chronicler of Ray’s life and works, Ghosh breathed his last in Kolkata yesterday, at 86. “Unlike all of us who see just through our eyes, he was also able to see through the lens of the camera. His images, even though frozen in time, were always dynamic. Till the very last, I am told, he continued to take pictures,” says Pramod Kumar KG, Managing Director of Eka Archiving. He curated his exhibition “Nemai Ghosh – Satyajit Ray and Beyond” at Delhi Art Gallery in 2013.
An aspiring actor in the late ’60s, the chance meeting with Ray was to change the course of Ghosh’s career. In the following years, he was part of every Ray movie as his unit’s stills photographer, from the more well-known films such as Shatranj Ke Khiladi and Ghare Baire, to lesser-known documentaries such as Sikkim and Bala. In the ’80s, Ghosh travelled to Paris and met Henri Cartier-Bresson, where he was introduced by the latter as “Satyajit Ray’s photographer”. “I can’t think of any other personality who has been documented so extensively by one person. He was with Ray throughout,” says Ashish Anand, Managing Director and CEO, DAG, who acquired Ghosh’s archive, consisting of more than one lakh photographs, in 2006.
Ghosh also worked with other filmmakers, including MS Sathyu, Tapan Sinha, Gautam Ghose and Ritwik Ghatak, and travelled across India to photograph tribal communities in Bastar, Chhattisgarh and Kutch. He also documented theatre in Bengal. “Most people don’t realise that his first love was street theatre and theatre performances in Bengal. In addition to them being remarkable photographs, they are also a chronicler of Indian theatre post-independence,” says Kumar.
Art critic and curator Ina Puri recalls working on him on the 2007 book Faces of Indian Art: Through the Lens of Nemai Ghosh. “I was most inspired by his positivity. Despite his failing health, he was forever ready to pick up the camera and create magic. You forgot his age when you saw his enthusiasm… He did not go to art school to learn photography but he learnt as he was shooting. He had some outstanding work already but he was constantly trying to better himself. He would paint images with his camera,” says Puri.
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