Seeing India through color lenses

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The Met Breuer focuses on “the Ganges side of modernism” with street photography by Raghubir Singh


  • "Monsoon Rains, Monghyr, Bihar," 1967. Chromogenic print. Photo courtesy of The Met Breuer

  • "Below the Howrah Bridge a Marwari Bride and Groom after Rites by the Ganges, Calcutta," 1968, printed after 1999. Chromogenic print. Photo courtesy of The Met Breuer

  • "Employees, Morvi Palace, Gujarat," 1982. Chromogenic print. Photo courtesy of The Met Breuer

  • "Pavement Mirror Shop, Howrah, West Bengal," 1991, printed later. Chromogenic print. Photo courtesy of The Met Breuer

If you go

WHAT: “Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs”

WHERE: The Met Breuer, 945 Madison Ave., at 75th Street

WHEN: through January 2


One of the distinguished offerings The Met Breuer has given its large audience is a focus on modernism — the latest example being Raghubir Singh’s color street photography.

A tribute to the art of photography, this fall’s retrospective at The Met Breuer, “Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs,” situates Singh’s work at the intersection of Western modernism and traditional South Asian modes of picturing the world. The exhibition features 85 photographs by Singh, along with examples of Indian court painting styles that inspired his explorations into color photography.

Born and raised in an aristocratic family in Rajasthan, Singh resided in Hong Kong, Paris, London, and New York — but his lifelong subject was his native India that remained his inexhaustible muse. A self-taught photographer, Singh dropped out of college in the 1960s and started his career with assignments for international magazines. He immersed himself in experimenting with color photography.

Famous for using his handheld camera and color-slide film, Singh recorded India’s dense backdrop in what artists call “frieze-like composition.” with opulent color. He died in 1999, at the age of fifty-six, but left a long-lasting legacy that has inspired many photographers around the world.

The exhibition traces the full course of Singh’s career from his early work as a photojournalist in the late 1960s through his last unpublished projects of the late 1990s. Walking through the intimate display of Singh’s photographs, the narrative resounds as you look at picture after picture shot in exquisite color. The chromatic use of color and light shouldn’t come as a surprise from a man widely acknowledged as the pioneer of color photography in India. The choice of his subjects and the compositions always made him stand out.

Singh was greatly influenced by the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and American street photographers such as William Gedney and Lee Friedlander. Traveling along his own path, Singh described his distinctively Indian style of modernist photography as “on the Ganges side of modernism, rather than the Seine or East River side of it.”

The Met has had a history of collecting art from India. Last year, the museum renewed a long-term cooperative relationship with the Indian government’s Ministry of Culture, which established a partnership for sharing knowledge and expertise between The Met and cultural institutions in India.

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