Raghu Rai, photographer
It was some time in the early 1970s, in Calcutta, that the then editor of the Statesman newspaper, Desmond Doig and I saw an image of the Taj Mahal in a local newspaper. It is Doig who prodded me in the direction of the mausoleum and encouraged me to photograph it. A few months later, I drove down to Agra. This was a time when there was no or little construction around it. From a mile away, the Taj mahal looked like the biggest banyan tree towering over a village. It is a masterpiece in the repertoire of Mughal architecture. It took me three days to get to the monument. Before that, I spent my time capturing the socio-cultural life around it. It is imperative to note that the purpose of photography is to document the times we live in. It serves as the visual history of a given period. History can be written and re-written, as many are trying to do now, but visual history cannot be distorted.
Sudarshan Shetty, Artist
This artwork is made of hundreds of miniature reproductions of the historic shrine, bolted together to form a monumental block. Re-scaled and repeated, the image is transposed from its original context to become mundane and nearly meaningless. Inside this room-block, a video shows another miniature of the Taj Mahal in flames, in a reverse loop, reinforcing the idea of destruction as a means to regeneration. The monument has migrated from a private gesture to a national symbol — a ubiquitous image robbed of potency, akin to a tourist souvenir. The piece reflects upon the notion of absence. In the first instance, the Taj stands as a tribute to a dead wife. In the second, it’s a symbol of a (constructed) notion of national identity.
Pravin Talan, photographer
As I travelled outside the country on work, I realised that people were curious about the Taj Mahal. I decided to photograph it across various seasons as well as capture the people whose work was inspired by the marvel. A zardozi painting intrigued me and that’s when I first met Fazal Mohammaded saab. A simple, humble man whose work was sold for millions around the world but it was the middlemen who pocketed the profits along with robbing him of credit. The project, “With love from Taj” is a tribute to the synthesis of our cultural traditions and artistic refinements that the Taj embodies. It will forever continue to inspire. There is much debate around the mausoleum but that it is magnificent cannot be disputed. As my brother, Vikas Talan, who helped me design the project would say, “Every stone of Taj Mahal has in it the heart of an emperor and he soul of an artist.”
– As told to Damini Ralleigh.