NEW DELHI

Freedom in black and white

Breaking the shackles:(Clockwise from top) Mahatma Gandhi in conversation with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel; Mahatma Gandhi and Mahadev Desai with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at Utmanzai in 1938; the signing of the Constitution of India; Lord Mountbatten at Rajghat; Rajendra Prasad using a possibly transparent telephone, as S. Radhakrishnan looks on; a young Aditya Arya with Kulwant RoyPhotos courtesy India Photo Archive Foundation

Breaking the shackles:(Clockwise from top) Mahatma Gandhi in conversation with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel; Mahatma Gandhi and Mahadev Desai with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at Utmanzai in 1938; the signing of the Constitution of India; Lord Mountbatten at Rajghat; Rajendra Prasad using a possibly transparent telephone, as S. Radhakrishnan looks on; a young Aditya Arya with Kulwant RoyPhotos courtesy India Photo Archive Foundation  

He was too busy taking pictures, to bother about his uncle’s. It took 25 years for Aditya Arya to shake off the dust accumulated on a box of pictures that photographer Kulwant Roy had bequeathed him. Arya was so wonder-struck by his late uncle’s frames of the Independence struggle, that he’s now all set to exhibit that collection in India Habitat Centre from August 19, 2018 in partnership with Google Photos. Just a sneak-peak…hope to see never-before-seen images of Gandhi in a private conversation with Sardar Patel; of a sari-clad freedom fighter giving a speech standing on top of the bonnet of a car; of a nattily dressed Lord Mountbatten wearing his shoes; and of the signing of the Constitution. These are records of history through another pair of eyes, that come under the category of “must see”.

Arya himself has a large body of work too. This includes pictures of Nagaland, Leh, Ladakh, Jaipur, Bihar, and Germany. He is also one of the leading photographers in Project 365, a public photo art project that creates and preserves visuals of the ever-changing customs and lifestyle of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu.

Excerpts from an interview:

What prompted you to open this box of photographs after 25 years?

The constant reminder from my mother, accompanied by a guilt feeling that I had not bothered to open these boxes for so long made me do it. I was in shock when I opened the box and saw the deterioration of the negatives and prints. Unfortunately, it was easily accessible, but it always slipped my mind.

Which images among this collection are your personal favourites, and why?

Many! It’s very difficult to isolate one single image, but maybe the ‘Ghulami’ is a classic image. It is a proud moment for every Indian to see the three iconic leaders, Gandhi, Patel and Sarat Chandra Bose against a map of India, where a man is trapped in shackles and slavery and how he is going to break them to emerge free. It is a time just before India got independence, and when you look at that photo, you want to know, what are these leaders talking about so intimately? It's like you want to hear their conversation, to live that moment with them.

What's it about black and white photographs that give them an edge over coloured ones?

For decades, the world of photography had only the purity of white and blacks with many shades of greys thrown in, but colour has created a distraction. Documentary stories always have more depth in black and white tones. Black and white allows you to make strong statements without any unhinging elements and uses minimalism.

When would you use colour photography?

Though colour photography should come more naturally, to handle colour is actually more difficult, as there is an overload of tonal information which could cause a distraction.

What drew you to photography? You've photographed many beautiful places. Would you say your strength lies in photographing places?

My lust is to constantly travel and explore new places and my work cuts across many genres. It’s all about the art of seeing.

What made you set up a photography archive?

I have always been interested in connecting visuals to the written or heard histories because seeing the visuals is the closest to experiencing the moments. It’s extremely important that visuals are preserved for posterity, as they are markers of time and contain a huge amount of information. It will help future generations interpret histories.

What are selfies doing to professional photographers? How does nostalgia play out today versus yesterday?

Selfies as a genre was always there because, since decades, cameras had a self-timer. Today, that self-timer has gone and as with everything in life, it is instant gratification.

Why did you think of tying up with Google for this, and how do you plan to reach Kulwant Roy's work to the largest number of Indians?

I am happy to tie-up with Google, as I would like the digital generation or millennials, as they are popularly referred to, to see these iconic images of freedom fighters. Otherwise, they will only know them as the names of roads, markets, and buildings. Moreover, with the number of photos that we are clicking, I want to tell the millennials to cherish and save their photos. Google Photos is helping us save these photos for life and I want to ensure nobody loses photos like I lost some.

If you were to photograph M K Gandhi, what aspect of his personality would you want to focus on?

I think I would just like to soak that moment and not shoot.

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