28 Feb – 02 Mar 2014

Raghubir Singh: A Way into India

Raghubir Singh (1942-1999) is lauded for his commitment to colour when black and white photography was the norm. Working in the period after India’s independence, he broke with the colonial tradition of picturesque landscapes and with the predominantly monochrome images of alienated subjects favoured by Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. Instead, he captured the streets of India teeming with life and pulsating with colour. "To see India monochromatically," he told Time magazine, "is to miss it altogether." Significant is the fact that Singh’s chosen medium was 35 mm Kodachrome which was neither sold nor processed in India.

A self taught photographer, Singh left India in 1976.He taught at Columbia University, Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts but he always returned to India for his photographic projects. During his lifetime, he published more than a dozen books, exploring India region by region. In his works from the 60s and 70s, Singh focused on the landscape and social fabric the country. The Art Institute of Chicago honoured Singh with a retrospective which was accompanied by the publication River of Colour (1998). Singh died the following year and his important contribution to the history of Modernism in India has been overlooked.

The presentation for Art 14 will include images from Raghubir Singh’s last book A Way into India (2002) which was published posthumously. Here Singh uses the increasingly obsolete Hindustan Ambassador car as a symbol of India and as a framing device. According to John Baldessari, Singh  ‘uses the automobile as a camera, a big black box with windows. He then includes this surrogate camera in the photograph, which proves large areas of black, reflections, transparencies and the dramatic arcs of the car’s design. The windows provide frames that partition his photographs like a Mondrain.”

Singh’s work transcends the label of ‘documentary photography’ and features sweeping scenes and iconic symbols that offer viewers complex portraits of India that straddle both the ancient and the modern, the intimate and the chaotic. His exploration of the medium has been compared to that of American photographer William Eggleston, yet his images are unmistakeably Indian.

A selection from Singh’s archive was recently exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery and at the Barbican. There have no commercial exhibitions of his work in the UK. 

Download list of works