Monday, December 14, 2009

RIP TS Satyan

Pic Courtesy: www.Outlookindia.com

A news ticker running on NDTV yesterday said "Mysore: Photographer TS Satyan dies at the age of 86", and it took me back to my brief interaction with the man. I had never heard of TS Satyan, veteran photojournalist, till I went for a preview of his photographs at the Piramal Gallery in South Mumbai around 1999-2000. I will never forget the incident. Creative people should never be treated in this manner.

I happened to visit the Piramal Gallery about an hour before the scheduled preview that day. I thought I will get some time to chat up Satyan. When I reached there, I saw that the gallery was completely empty. An aging Satyan was very lovingly putting up his pictures on the wall along with photojournalist and my friend Chirodeep Chaudhari. I got a chance to leisurely see his pictures, and have a chat with the man.

Like Satyan, his pictures were simple. Mostly black and white pictures shot in the old school style -- the emphasis firmly on the human expressions, and compositions. Like in this picture of Maharani Gayatri Devi. The picture captures the awe common people felt towards royalty those days. A lot of these pictures were clearly part of a visual history that very few Indian photographers may have captured.

Minutes went by, and it was time for the preview to start. All this while, there were just three of us in the gallery - Satyan, Chiro and me. And, there was no sign of anyone arriving either. Satyan was clearly upset. He never expected that he would be received in this manner by Mumbai's art loving junta. I felt at least the photojournalistic community should have been there to support. I called up a few photojournalists friends. Those who were free at that moment did troop in later. But, Satyan was clearly hurt. He said he will never exhibit in Mumbai again. I don't know if he ever did.

I was also shocked for another reason. Exactly seven days before this, I had come to the same gallery for a much-hyped preview of Prabuddha Dasgupta's exhibition on Ladakh. Before the preview could start, I was standing near the entrance of the gallery with my friend Neeraj Priyadarshi, now Indian Express photo-editor. A well-known socialite (whose name is better avoided) walked in, and obviously mistaking Neeraj for Prabuddha, started complimenting him in a manner mastered only by empty-headed socialites.

Both of us were taken aback, and we politely directed her to go to the first floor gallery. Quite obviously, it turned out to be a socialite gathering complete with wine-and-cheese. The place was buzzing with models, and people from the ad industry since Dasgupta (yes the man who shot Milind Soman-Madhu Sapre Tuff Shoes ad) is a celebrated ad photographer. TV cameras and photojournalists also came in large numbers to cover the event.

The memory of the stark contrast between these two photo exhibitions came back when I read about Satyan's death in Mysore. Undaunted by the response to his Mumbai exhibition, Satyan continued to take his old-world-gentility all around the country, and came up with several collections of his photographs.

Born in 1923 in Mysore, Satyan was one of the early pioneers in Indian photojournalism and shot pictures for publications like The Illustrated Weekly of India, Life, Time, Newsweek. He also shot special projects for Unicef which allowed him to travel widely and shoot rural life, especially the children, from a closer perspective. In 1979, Unicef organised an exhibition of Satyan's pictures of children at the UN headquarters in New York to mark the International Year of the Child. His books include Exploring Karnataka, German Vignettes, Hampi - The Fabled Capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, In Love with Life - A Journey through Life in Photographs, and in 2005 Penguin published his memoirs titled Alive and Clicking. Satyan was awarded the Padma Shri in 1977.

Do check more links on TS Satyan:
A Rediff report
Hindu article
Review of his show, A Long Exposure


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