In Bikaner half a century ago, there lived a man called ‘Charlie Bikaner’. Little is known of him, but this much is clear — he was a detective who ran a lodge as a cover for his crime-busting. And, it now turns out, he liked to get himself photographed enacting crime scenes. Charlie had a rather inflated sense of drama, which makes his pictures interesting, funny even. In one picture you see him holding a period steel trunk in one hand and pointing a gun at the camera with the other, an open knife wedged between his teeth; in another, he’s plunging a knife into a woman, his face breaking in an exaggerated grimace, and wearing a sleeveless waistcoat that shows off the tyres of fat on his tummy.
Charlie is undoubtedly interesting but he would have remained lost in obscurity had not Kapil Das, 28, a freelance photographer, taken photographs of his photographs and posted them on blindboys.org, an online ‘magazine’ for “bold. independent. Asian. photography.”, that he and Akshay Mahajan, another freelance shutter-bug, launched in early June.
“It’s a platform for young photographers from Asia, since there are not many places they can show their work,” says Mahajan.
Clearly the buzz around photography has remained confined to a few established names, the Raghu Rais and Dayanita Singhs, while the younger lot has limited avenues to show its work. The result, a number of photographers have gone online. “It’s the most economical,” says businessman-turned-photographer Ajay Rajgarhia. “Not only do you save on the quite substantial cost of printing and framing, but you also reach out to a wider audience.”
Besides Blindboys, there is Photosinthesis, launched with great ambitions a year-and-a-half ago by amateur photographers Tarun Das and Aniruddha Mukherjee, again “as a platform for the amateur and professional photographers”. The site helped Das and Mukherjee somewhat, and they had a show at the Alliance Francaise in New Delhi last year, but Photosinthesis has all but fizzled out lately.
Which is not something you can say about Wonderwall, “India’s first e-commerce website dedicated to fine art photography” started by Rajgarhia two years ago. Wonderwall is not just about photographers, although it has 35 professionals and amateurs on its rolls; it’s also about consumers who can order prints on “Hahnemuehle/Epson art quality paper”, which gives an “assured 100 years lightfastness”.
Unlike Wonderwall, Blindboys is not about ‘art’ photography — these are documentary photographers who travel the world and work independently. Mahajan, for example, is now in downtown Srinagar documenting today’s Kashmiri youth, while Das has done a photo-feature on the travelling theatrical troupes of Gujarat. The model, says Mahajan, is international agencies like Magnum or VII Photo Agency run by photographers themselves.
“That’s a model, yes,” agrees Kapil Das, “but we also have other plans. For example, on-the-wall exhibitions on streets, which is already happening in Srinagar, where Akshay is showing his pictures alongside some by local photographers. There is a huge world of photographers in India, outside the clutches of the art/exhibition circle. We intended to find them.”
The obscure, unsung photographer in Bikaner who shot Charlie will no doubt be thankful.