Home >mint-lounge >business-of-life >Visual Archives Of Kulwant Roy: Archive fever

Kulwant Roy, who began his career with the Indian Air Force in the 1940s, went on to become one of the pioneers of photojournalism in independent India. Although he chronicled the leaders of the freedom movement extensively, his archives were not made public until Aditya Arya, a family friend and himself a photographer, took charge and organized an exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi in 2012. The photographs from that show are now travelling to the NGMA in Mumbai, where they will be on display from Friday.

“I had several trunks full of material by Roy with me for many years," says Arya. “When I decided to start working on the archives, I felt slightly scared." A fashion and advertising photographer whose work kept him on the move, Arya was intimidated by the scores of notes, prints and negatives that needed to be preserved and classified.

Roy, like Homai Vyarawalla, was a gifted portrait maker who not only had intimate access to politicians such as Jawaharlal Nehru, M.A. Jinnah and M.K. Gandhi, but also the skill to make the most of the few seconds he got with them. “In those days photography was an expensive activity," says Arya. It was important for photographers to compose the entire frame in their mind before they focused the camera: There were no zoom lenses, sophisticated light meters, flashes and contact sheets to facilitate the perfect shot.

In spite of these limitations, Roy went on to take riveting photographs of his subjects. Be it Gandhi stepping off a third-class railway carriage or Sardar Patel speaking to the dwindling royalty of India with a smirk on his face, or Nehru’s smiling, jubilant face, he had a keen feel for what constituted the decisive moment and how to seize it.

In spite of his considerable talent, like most early photojournalists Roy had to push his own work. There were not many agencies around at the time to help him reach his work to a wider audience. At his studio in New Delhi’s Mori Gate, Roy sorted his negatives, developed rolls of films, and sold prints of his work (often he gave them away gratis).

The Visual Archives Of Kulwant Roy is on till 7 September, 10am-5pm (closed on Mondays and national holidays), at the NGMA, Sir Cowasji Jahangir Public Hall, Fort, Mumbai.

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