S Paul was a path-breaker, he set the trend, his portraits had emotion| Obituary

Ace photographer S Paul (1929-2017) captured various shades of Old Delhi over the years.

opinion Updated: Aug 18, 2017 17:00 IST
Raghu Rai
Raghu Rai
Hindustan Times
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Renowned Indian Photographer S Paul, the father of modern Indian photojournalism passed away at the age of 88, at his Surya Nagar residence in Sahibabad at 9.30 p.m on Wednesday August 16, 2017. Accompanying him on his pyre was an old analog camera. (Pramod Pushkarna)

My brother’s career started with the Himachal government’s tourism department in the ’50s and that’s where he started taking photographs. Photography happened because of where he was. He picked up his first camera in his 20s; his first camera was the Rolleiflex but he was a man who liked to work with various brands of camera. He had at least a hundred cameras. I believe the Nikon D800 was his favourite, it had 36 megapixels after all.

He was a self-taught photographer – he learnt by experimenting, improving and discovering things as he went along. We talk of ‘influences’ today but at that time there was no one to be influenced by. Photography then was just romanticism or pictoralism – it meant taking pictures of gnarled trees, pretty women, old men, children. He was the first one to stand against this trend. His portraits had emotion, his landscapes were meaningfully done. We would discuss among ourselves the landscape work of American photographer Ansel Adams.

Workers dry clothes near the Red Fort. (S Paul)

I am 75, he was 87. So he started in the trade 12 years before me. What people don’t know is that though he did some political photography in the beginning, he was an excellent sports photographer. People didn’t expect to see fun in sports photography but he brought that element in.

He also took great pictures of animals – especially in the Delhi Zoo. His political photography was more of an intimate sort. There is a beautiful photograph he took of Jawaharlal Nehru during Republic Day with a girl doing a folk dance. No one objected to the photograph. There was a lot of romanticism and beauty about Nehru.

My brother was a homebound man, a private man. He didn’t go abroad, or meet people. He chose not to fly high. Most of his work was in and around Delhi.

He didn’t interact much except with Indian photographers and so anyone who was serious about photography went to him. He had influence, they felt connected to him.

What did he teach me? No photographer can really teach another photographer timing or what is the right moment to take a photograph.

A photographer is best remembered by his photos. But if I were to put it in words I would say that he turned the romantic and pictorial photography into a vibrant, living image.

(Raghu Rai is S Paul’s younger brother and a celebrated photographer; as told to Paramita Ghosh).

First Published: Aug 18, 2017 14:42 IST