Prashant Panjiars new photo exhibition engages with the changing nation
In 1982,when the much-feared Chambal dacoit Malkhan Singh wanted to give up arms,Prashant Panjiar and his friends negotiated the surrender. For over six months,the photographer and his friends had been in touch with Singh for a book. The incident won them instant recognition and for Panjiar,a career in journalism had begun. While he worked on several challenging assignments,from the 1984 anti-Sikh riots to the 2001 Gujarat earthquake,he kept aside images that appealed to him for later use. More than two decades later,he has linked these together in an exhibition,Pan India,a shared habitat.
What prompted you to plan this show now?
I have been unknowingly working on this for a long time. When I looked at my collection of unused images in 2007,I realised that most depicted the changes taking place in India. That is when I decided on an exhibition. All the photographs are panoramic and have been selected from thousands taken between 2000 and now. What distinguishes this era is that the changes are rapid,there are changes in the look of the country,akin to the developments that took place post-independence in the 1950s.
The first photographs in the show are broad cityscapes,then come the images of migrant workers and workplaces. In the next section,you enter living rooms.
The exhibition takes the viewer from the outside to the inside. Even the size of the first few photographs has been kept large to provide that broader view. The last few images of living spaces are much smaller. I want people to go near and look closely. Sometimes,it is the texture and feel of the photographs that made me juxtapose them,that seem to have brought them together. Like the site of a new suburban city in Kolkata alongside hawkers stalls at a beach in Gokarna; workers resting inside steel pipes in Mumbai and the photograph of the over 100-year-old Karim Talkies in Jamshedpur. At other places,the juxtaposition is more uncertain. For example,the photograph of youngsters outside the venue of a rock concert in Delhi has been placed near the image of Dalit women before an Ambedkar statue in Maharajganj,Uttar Pradesh.
Did being a photojournalist and your association with NGOs allow you access that might not have been possible otherwise?
My work did help me reach out to more places and people. Most photographs have been taken when I was on assignment. For instance,I was in Nuapada in Orissa for work for an NGO and I told them I wanted to photograph a family. They introduced me to a teacher in a primary school,Gopal Chandra Patel. Soon I was in his house,at his living room,taking a photograph of him with his wife and mother. In Pune,I managed to get a photograph of two daughters of the Nagada drum player of Tulsibagh temple. He believes he is the last in line of hereditary Nagada players in the city.
Your exhibition Kings and Commoners and the book King,Commoner,Citizen also showed thematic contrasts in India.
The people in those photographs were different from one another in economic and social status but each occupied their space with pride. The current project is a continuation of that. This,too,has people in different places,from different backgrounds and depicts varied aspects of India.
How would you define the present state of photojournalism in India?
In the 1980s,if you counted the top photographers in India,most were photojournalists. Now it will be hard to find many of them on the list. Media has changed a lot. In the new set-up,photography has suffered.
You select and mentor young photographers for National Foundation of Indias fellowship programme. How do you rate young photographers?
There is a lot of talent and there are avenues where they could put it to use,even though it is still difficult being a freelance photographer in India. Working with young photographers helps me get fresher ideas and remain grounded.
The show opens in Delhi on Friday. It travels to Bangalore,Kolkata later this year and to Mumbai in early 2010.