Snapshots of history when the ‘camera did not lie’

When he was four, Aditya Arya wasn’t exposed to popular fables and folklores. Instead he grew up on anecdotes about the country’s freedom fighters — Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan.

Arya’s uncle, Kulwant Roy, a photojournalist who documented the years preceding and following India’s Independence, narrated these tales to him.

On April 2, Arya (50) will launch History In The Making: The Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy, a coffee table book featuring 350 images of Roy’s visual archives that were bequeathed to Arya.

“He was matter-of-fact about the kind of access he had to the nation’s foremost leaders,” said Arya, an advertising photographer, who was told that Gandhi demanded an anna from Roy for every photo he took of him as a fee for “serving the nation”.

Roy passed away in 1984. Arya inherited the trunks of photographs but did not open them till 25 years later. When he did in 2007, Arya paused his career realising that this rare historical evidence had to be urgently disseminated. Given the scant regard for the history of photography in India, Arya intended to share the archives with international universities, until a benefactor, industrialist Suresh Neotia, urged him to preserve it as a national treasure.

“He offered me a blank cheque for digitising and preserving the photographs without even having a look at them,” Arya said.

“I’ve been dealing with twin subjects — the history of the nation and photojournalism. These archives are proof of a time when camera didn’t lie and photographs weren’t staged,” said Arya, a history student.

Arya has barely sifted through 70 per cent of the “boxes crammed with prints”. He regards the images of the INA Trials and those of the Muslim League sessions presided over by Mohammad Ali Jinnah as the most potent. “Five years from now it maybe too late. Many photographs disintegrate the minute I touch them,” Arya said.

Through the exhibition, Arya hopes to look beyond the selectivity of historians and let ordinary people interpret these visual archives.          

(History In The Making:

The Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy by Aditya Arya and Indivar Kamtekar will be launched on April 2, at Piramal Gallery, NCPA, Nariman Point at 6 pm. The exhibition will conclude on April 7)


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