Artists As Art: See rare portraits of MF Husain and Mulk Raj Anand
The year was 1984. When photographer Ketaki Sheth, then 27, heard that novelist Anita Desai would be in Delhi for a writers’ conference, she wrote to the author asking if she could photograph her. The shoot took place at the sprawling Lodhi Garden where the two got talking about the writing life and the importance of solitude, among other things. Desai had just finished In Custody, her novel set in the world of Urdu literature, and had little idea how it would be received. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize later that year and adapted by Ismail Merchant into a film in 1993, starring Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri.
“Desai was quiet, thoughtful and loved nature,” says Sheth. “I felt a wide-angle composition showing the largeness of nature and the antiquity of the monument gave me a sense of what a writer like her must feel like.”
The black-and-white portrait, which shows the novelist deep in thought on a bench under a tree in a cotton sari, is currently on display at a curated exhibition at Delhi’s PHOTOINK gallery.
The exhibition, titled Some Portraits, showcases 49 such photographs of artists – poets, writers, dancers, architects, painters, photographers, designers – which have been sourced from the archives of photographers such as Pablo Bartholomew, Richard Bartholomew, Madan Mahatta, Ram Rahman, Sadanand Menon, Ketaki Sheth and Sooni Taraporevala.
The portraits, spread over a period of 40 years, capture the artists in a variety of moods. Some are playful, inviting the lens into the home; others are contemplative and quite evidently posing, while some seem oblivious to the camera.
Bharatnatyam dancer Shirin Vajifdar is sprawled on her bed, her hands cushioning her head and one leg folded over another, smiling.
In another frame, her husband, writer Mulk Raj Anand, is sitting in his favourite reading spot at his Mumbai home, one hand on his chin, staring into the camera, looking formidable. In Delhi’s Lodhi Garden, poet-translator AK Ramanujan is seated at the very edge of a stone slab, smiling frugally into the lens. In another frame, poet Dom Moraes is walking through the Park Street Cemetery in Calcutta with author Ina Puri in tow. Reclined on his bed at his Cuffe Parade home, artist MF Husain is busy scribbling as two life-sized photographs of actor Madhuri Dixit stare at him as he works.
“None of the portraits were commissioned but were born out of curiosity and admiration,” says Devika Daulet Singh, exhibition curator and director of PHOTOINK.
“The exhibition was conceived to include portraits by Richard and Pablo Bartholomew. This year Ketaki Sheth and Sooni Taraporevala opened up their archives. The exhibition expanded organically to include portraits by Madan Mahatta, Sadanand Menon and Ram Rahman,” Singh says.
Among the most arresting snapshots frozen in time is that of writer and cultural-activist Pupul Jayaker, taken some four years before her death. Jayakar is sitting on her sunlight-dappled bed, an elbow propped on her knee and her face resting on her palm — studying the camera or rather returning the gaze.
What: Some Portraits: Pablo Bartholomew, Richard Bartholomew, Madan Mahatta, Sadanand Menon, Ram Rahman, Ketaki Sheth, Sooni Taraporevala
Where: PHOTOINK Gallery, A-4 Green Avenue Street, Off Green Avenue, Church/Mall Road, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi
Timings: 11am to 7pm. The gallery (closed on Sundays and Mondays) reopens on January 2. Entry is free
On till: January 14