“What is the standard of Photography in our country?” This question is often asked by my friends.
We have many talented photographers, but there is no encouragement, no recognition, not even a word of appreciation for them. Photographers in our country are a neglected lot: As a consequence, they have lost the initiative and are just plodding on a weary path. The art of picture-making has not kept pace with technological advancement.
I come across a large number of promising young photographers aspiring to make the grade. But where are the openings for them? The doors of the Press are closed to freelance photojournalists. Government jobs are lousy. Finally, they end up opening a small studio to do wedding photography, or to take passport photographs for rupees five for three copies, a field in which there is cut-throat competition.
To discuss these and other related matters, a National Seminar is being held by the Forum of Contemporary Photographers - a group of creative photographers practicing photojournalism and social landscape, at the India International Centre, New Delhi. The organisers hope to formulate a policy relating to the ‘State and Status of Photography in India’.
In spite of having a large number of newspapers and magazines, the standard of press photography leaves something to be desired, the Editors have to take the responsibility. A Press Photographer has no say in the matter of selection of photographs and their display. The remedy lies in giving adequate freedom to the photographer, and to give him a word of encouragement where it is due, and to give some incentive like a bonus, or advanced increment, to motivate him to put his best foot forward.
Editors can also help raise the standard of photography by reserving some space exclusively to photographs from freelance photographers. They have enough space to devote to cartoon strips many of which are hardly understood, to weekly forecasts, and to crossword puzzles, but no paper is prepared to allocate space for the publication of photographs of a non-political or creative nature. This alone can help raise the standard of photography in our country to a very great extent.
WHAT HAS THE GOVERNEMNT DONE?
The government has done precious little to recognise photographic talent and to give photography an honoured place. There are National awards in all disciplines excepting photography.
Let me take the Padma awards. Every year dozens of citizens - living or dead, are selected for those prestigious awards. The armed forces and the police honour their personnel and the list of those honoured run into several pages. But during the past twenty years, only six photographers have received the Padma Shri award. Not a single photographer has been considered for the Padma Bhushan award. Does that mean that we have none to qualify for that award? Against this, we have photographers who have been ranked among the top photographers of the world by international organisations outside India.
The Information & Broadcasting Ministry has a separate cell set up to honour film personalities and to organise film festivals. Radio and TV artists have not been ignored but the photographer is hardly remembered. Why this step-motherly treatment to photography?
It has become a fashion to acquire paintings by top artists at fancy prices, but there is no corresponding movement as regards photography.
Most advanced countries have recognised photography as an art form. In India, however, we are still sitting on the fence. About four years ago, the Lalit Kala Academy organised the first Biennale of Photography. It has coolly forgotten to organise the second biennale. Some money was granted to the National Gallery of Modern Art to acquire photographs. No one knows what the position is.
There are no recognised educational institutions to teach photography. However, there are two private institutions in Delhi, but the Government is oblivious of their existence. It may not be out of place to mention that a few good photographers in government service and elsewhere are the products of those two institutions.
What is the contribution of the big manufacturers of photo goods? The Hindustan Photo Films Co., a Govt. of India undertaking, the AGFA and the Kodak companies are doing crores of rupees worth of business in India, but they are not lifting their little fingers to discover photographic talent, or to encourage amateur photographers in our country. Some critics talk disparagingly about photographic Salons held in different parts of the country. If photography is alive in our country today, it is entirely due to the selfless services of a few individuals who are sparing no efforts in promoting photography as creative medium and encouraging amateur photographers to develop their creative faculty through participations in Salons.
Eight years ago, the India International Photographic Council was formed covering the entire Eastern hemisphere, with headquarters in Delhi. It is not only promoting photographic activity in the country, but is offering photographic distinctions like the Fellowships and Associateships on the merit of individual photographers. If the number of photographers seeking those distinctions in any indication, the IIPC, as it is popularly known, is doing yeoman service.
I do not like to paint an altogether pessimistic picture, we have enough photographic talent, but it has to be harnessed in the right direction. In this, both the Government and the Press can play a significant role. Let us hope that this seminar will arouse the conscience of the powers-that-be, and of the Press and will contribute towards the advancement of Photography in India.
Published by the Forum of Contemporary Photographers, 1992