JTF (just the facts): Published in 1998 by Phaidon Press. With a preface by David Travis, and an essay by Raghubir Singh. Large panoramic format volume; 160 pages, with 128 full page color plates. The images were taken between 1967 and 1996. (Cover shot at right.)
Comments/Context: Seeing Raghubir Singh’s images of India in an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago last winter got me thinking that we needed to get a book of his work for our library and to educate ourselves on his art a bit further. Singh died in 1999, but had spent his entire thirty year career as a photographer documenting the complexities of his homeland. This book is a retrospective, a representative sample of work drawn from the 12 volumes of images he published across his lifetime, and as such, is a good place to start for collectors not familiar with his work.
The chaos and bustle of Indian life lends itself well to small camera photography, and Singh’s approach finds easy parallels with that of Cartier-Bresson and Winogrand. The difference lies in that Singh embraced color from the very beginning, making him a lesser known chronological counterpart to Eggleston, Shore, Sternfeld, Meyerowitz, and Ghirri (the generally acknowledged masters of early color).
Singh’s images are bursting with life; there is hardly an image in this entire volume that isn’t filled with people (and animals) in constant motion. Singh systematically blanketed his country, making pictures in many different states and geographies, along important rivers and down traditional roads. His images document the lives of ordinary people, in the humanist tradition, with a keen sense for the psychology of the place. For outsiders (like ourselves), some of these images have the look of exotic travel photography; for insiders, they likely represent a surprisingly successful portrait of the incomprehensible juxtapositions of day to day existence in India. Singh’s images are filled with bright colors and complex compositions, often capturing that fleeting moment when the chaos resolved itself into something visually striking.
The artist’s estate website can be found here.
Collector’s POV: While I searched a bit on the Internet, I couldn’t find any New York gallery representation for Singh’s work. (UPDATE: I have been informed that SEPIA International (here) represents the estate of Raghubir Singh in North America, and will have a booth at AIPAD this year featuring a few estate prints.) There have only been a handful of images available in the secondary markets in the past few years, so few that a price pattern is hard to discern; perhaps the artist’s estate is a good place to start. I do think that Singh’s work would fit very well into collections that center on early color, especially some of those images with lavish color contrasts and/or almost cubist compositions.