A self-taught independent photojournalist, Prashant Panjiar is one of India’s best-known photographers.
Based in New Delhi, Prashant specializes in reportage – editorial and documentary photography. A veteran in his field, he also works as a consulting editor, curator, and educator.
Actively involved in guiding young photographers in India, Prashant is one of the three senior photographers who select and mentor young documentary photographers for National Foundation of India’s fellowship program. He is also a co-founder of the Delhi Photo Festival, and the Nazar Foundation.
Born in 1957, Prashant is a post-graduate in Political Science from Pune University, India. During his university days, he developed his photographic skills working on photographic projects that focused on peasant movements and other social issues.
From 1984 through 2001, Prashant worked for several major Indian magazines as a photographer and eventually editor. Since 2001, he has devoted himself to being a full-time independent photographer specializing in editorial and documentary photography. Prashant’s work is regularly published in leading magazines both in India and abroad.
Celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world, Diwali is one of the most important festivals in India.
Celebrated between mid-October and mid-November each year, Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ – due to the clay lamps that Indians traditionally lit outside their homes. The candles, lights and fireworks during Diwali give every photographer a lot to work with.
Believed to have originated as a harvest festival, today Diwali is celebrated for various reasons by Hindus depending on the region of India in which they reside. Non-Hindu communities also celebrate this holiday, again, for their own reasons. The main theme common throughout all the celebrations is the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil.
During the five-day festival, homes, temples, and other buildings throughout the country are decorated with colorful lights, and large firework displays are held in many communities.
During the holiday, houses are cleaned, people dress in new clothes, sweets are exchanged, and prayers given – typically to Lakshmi, the goddess of fertility and prosperity.
Diwali offers photographers a variety of subjects to shoot – from the light and fireworks, to the interactions of families and communities celebrating together.
Photography came to India around 1840, just as photography was replacing painting as the new mode of recording the world.
In the early years, almost all the photos taken in India were linked to the British colonial regime – either by subject, or by photographer. The photographers mainly were English civil servants in the colonial government, or employees of the British East India Company (colloquially known as ‘John Company’). Some were employed specifically to take photographs, while others were amateurs.
Photography was also considered by the East India Company to be the most accurate and economical means of recording architectural and archaeological monuments for official records. The company actively encouraged the employees to photograph, and record archaeological sites.
Although they were a tiny minority of the population, it was the English in India who also first formed the major market for photography in India. Many individual bought photographs as a visual record of their experiences in India, which at the end of their tour of duty they would take back to their home country to show their family and friends.
No definitive record of when the first photograph was taken in India exists, but it’s generally agreed that the first commercial photograph taken in India dates from 1844.
The first photographic societies of India were found in 1854 in Bombay and 1857 in Bengal and Madras.
Indians were also quick to learn how to take photos. The first to learn were probably those employed by European photographers as assistants. These Indian photographers began by taking photos for India’s upper classes. There was a growing demand among wealthy Indians for photos, and local studios were soon set up to meet this demand.
The first Indian photographer whose name is recorded is Nawab Ahmed Ali Khan of Lucknow. However, it’s not exactly clear when he started taking photos. Estimates range between 1845 and 1850. The earliest existing photo taken by Khan is dated 1855
By 1855, a course in photography had been established at the Madras School of Industrial Art to teach photography to Indian students.
The quick growth of photography amongst Indians can be seen by inclusion of 30 photographs by Dr Narain Dajee (a professional photographer, and a council member of the Bombay Photographic Society) in the 1857 exhibition by the Photographic Society of Bengal. Dajee’s photos differed from his British counterparts in that they included images of fakirs, snake charmers, musicians, soldiers and other Indians.
As Indian photographers began establishing successful studios, most of them made the majority of their money through commissions from affluent Indian families. However, a few Indian photographers also began selling their work to both the aristocratic families of India as well as to the British civil servants serving the British Raj. Lala Deen Dayal (also known as Raja Deen Dayal) was one of the most successful*.
*Stay tuned… a post on Lala Deen Dayal will be coming soon!