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When images speak from the walls

Published : Nov 6, 2015, 2:41 am IST
Updated : Nov 6, 2015, 2:41 am IST

While accepting Time’s lifetime achievement award, war photographer James Nachtwey said, “Millions of readers care about what happens in our world because we give them something to care about.

Coal workers, Dhanbad, Bihar, India, 1989 © Sebastião Salgado
 Coal workers, Dhanbad, Bihar, India, 1989 © Sebastião Salgado

While accepting Time’s lifetime achievement award, war photographer James Nachtwey said, “Millions of readers care about what happens in our world because we give them something to care about. But no matter how powerful the words or images might be, without bold and committed editors who share our sense of purpose and who give us space to tell our stories, we’re just howling in the wind.”

Deepak Puri, former general manager and photo-editor of Time-Life news service’s South Asia bureau, has played just such a role in the newswheel, ensuring that correspondents and photographers were dredged from every corner of the world to grab the most important stories as they happened. The exhibition “The Legacy of Photojournalism — The Deepak Puri Collection” is a testimony to Mr Puri’s three-decade long passion and dexterity at the Time.

“I want to share these iconic photos with students and lovers of photography,” said Mr Puri. “I am delighted that Tasveer Arts has put my collection of images in the public domain and fulfilled my dream.”

The exhibition is an astounding collection of photographs some of the best photo documentaries, which were bestowed upon Mr Puri by the masters themselves over his long career. These signed prints dedicated to Mr Puri are breathtaking visual of people in the subcontinent, as well as a few other countries.

A Delhi puppeteer from Shadipur is shot by Philip Gostelow with a Rajasthani puppet. Kenro Izu’s image of a meditating man in a Tamil Nadu temple draws you into its serenity and calm. A hand, the only visible part of burqa-clad women glows in James Nachtwey’s image made in Iraq, in contrast to Prashant Panjiar’s image of Naga sadhus splashing through a pool of water. Then there is Sebastiao Salgado’s mesmerising 1986 image of the gold mine of Serra Pelada, Brazil — from five feet away it looks like a pit crawling with tiny insects, but a closer look reveals forms of toiling humans and tall ladders.

During his work at the Time, Mr Puri juggled various obstacles to make stories happen but, he said, without ever compromising the ethics and quality of the magazine. Mr Puri attributes what he has accomplished to the bonds he formed with the people he met.

“Helping people, whether professionally or personally, is my life,” he said. “My work ethic of forming bonds with those I work with comes from my mother. She ensured she stayed in touch with all her relatives, even the most distant ones. I brought this into my work. I form relationships with people.”

In addition to his work as a photo editor, Mr Puri’s task was to ensure that journalists got in and out of difficult, often dangerous, situations. “Despite being a magazine, we used to be first at the story,” said Mr Puri. “When journalists were in conflict zones, I used to make sure that they had enough money, safety jackets, satphones and even things like contact lens solution! And it’s not just Time journalists, but also other expat correspondents whom I helped.” For several people, he made the impossible real.

Mr Puri related one such difficult story, “When I coordinated the Siachen story in 2003 for Outside magazine, the correspondent Kevin Fedarko and photographer Teru Kuwayama brought back a white rock for me. I was shocked! They had lugged that very heavy rock all the way from Siachin for me! I keep that rock at the mandir of my farm, not because I’m a pious man, but I value it dearly.”

While this exhibition re-emphasises the importance of photographs as socio-historical documents, Mr Puri, a self-taught photo critic who has learned from keen observation and experience, said very few Indian newspapers and magazines place emphasis on photographs. “They (print media) either don’t have the space or perhaps don’t value good photographs any longer. If you look at European and American publications, they continue to carry memorable photos,” said Mr Puri.

Despite donating several photographs for the collection, Mr Puri has a number of fabulous photographs and paintings hanging on the walls of his home. The men and women in Steve McCurry’s portraits gaze down at you in the foyer, while Nachtwey’s image of an African boy sits almost like a painting on one wall.

After Mr Puri donated the images to MAP, he called James Nachtwey requesting him for some prints for his private collection. “Jim burst out laughing and said ‘You’re a funny man Deepak’.”

He now spends a large portion of his time at his farm in Baliavas, Haryana where, he said, he is Raghu Rai’s neighbour. “I never say he is my neighbour. Before I met him in 1984, though I knew about images, my eye (for photographs) was raw. Raghu Rai taught me how to feel the pulse of a photograph. He is my mentor.”

The Deepak Puri Collection, on display at exhibit 320 in Lado Sarai till November 15th, includes a selection of the works by 30 internationally-acclaimed photojournalists, James Nachtwey, Sebastião Salgado, Raghu Rai and Steve McCurry to name a few.

The exhibit is a collateral event of the Delhi Photo Festival 2015, which will be on at the IGNCA from October 30 to November 8.

The exhibition, a part of Tasveer’s 10th anniversary celebration, was enabled by Mr Puri’s donation to the Museum of Art and Photography, Bengaluru. The touring exhibit will travel across India for public viewing — New Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad.