While growing up, Prabuddha Dasgupta spent considerable time at Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). After all, his father Pradosh Das Gupta was a curator there. So it’s only fair that three years after Prabuddha’s death, his retrospective exhibition takes place in the same premises he grew up in. On Saturday evening, noted photographer Raghu Rai will inaugurate the exhibition titled “Prabuddha Dasgupta: A Journey”. It’s also at this exhibition that a book, Prabuddha Dasgupta, curated by his wife and daughters, comprising his published and unpublished photos, will be launched. In an interview, his elder daughter, Aleeya Dasgupta, 25, opens up about the emotional journey of putting the book together, and gives a glimpse into the nature of a photographer we barely knew. Excerpts:
When did you begin work on the book and exhibition?
About two years ago, Rajeev Lochan, Director of The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), approached us with the idea of doing a retrospective exhibition of my father’s work. It was originally scheduled for last September but there was an overwhelming amount of work to be done and we were nowhere close to being ready. It was Rajeev who planted the idea of doing a book along with the show, in my mother Tania’s head. So, we — my mother, sister, and I — have been working on it ever since.
The book, Prabuddha Dasgupta, is a collection of his various works. Tell us about it.
There are over 200 photographs selected from various bodies of work across my father’s career, in the book. The primary edit was my mother’s, and the final edit a collaborative process between the three of us. The previously published work include Women; Edge of Faith; and Ladakh. Apart from those there is a section on fashion, as well as a lot of unpublished and unseen images from a commissioned project on Hampi; images from Longing, his last series; and some abstracts. For the exhibition at the NGMA, 91 photos from these 200 odd will be put up.
The last two years must have been an emotional journey.
It’s been tough. My mother dealt with the brunt of it because she did all the initial scanning and editing, which involved looking through thousands of photographs, particularly the last decade, when he had moved out. My sister and I had to read through all of his writings and interviews. So lots of memories and constant, and in-your-face reminders on a daily basis. Emotionally, it’s not been easy. I am glad we had this deadline, otherwise I suspect we would have taken longer. Now the book and the exhibition is finally happening.
Did you ever pick up the camera?
I’ve never picked up photography in a serious way but have gone through a few phases. I’m definitely prejudiced against it because of the inevitable associations and expectations people would have from me, and because it seems too easy an option, in a way. I am not entirely closed to the idea of getting into it more seriously some day, but I don’t want to force it. For now, the development sector is my interest. I work for a livelihood improvement nonprofit organisation, based in Nigeria.
Tell us about the relationship you shared with your father.
We had a very peculiar, non-traditional relationship. It was always more of a friendship than a parent-child equation. I could talk to him about anything and everything, much more than I would with friends. We (my sister and I) were never too involved in his work, although he
would listen to our suggestions from time to time. I always shied away from the photographer side of him. The fame attached to it made and continues to make me uncomfortable.
I am very camera-awkward but he shot my sister extensively. Also, my mother in the early years. Some very beautiful photos that the world will never see if she has her way!
In public, he was smooth, suave, and full of charm, but at home, he was a complete clown. He would sing Leonard Cohen’s song Darkness in Bengali, impromptu; imitate every one, all the time, mercilessly; pose for us in ridiculous positions. He always brought lightness into the house.
He was pretty damn lazy and made sure to build a lifestyle that suited his nature — working seven odd days in a month and bumming around for the rest of it.
(The exhibition at NGMA, Delhi, continues till November 19)