Let there be light
Photographer and curator Ram Rahman will discuss the process that iconic lensman JH Thakker used for his stunning photographs, currently on display at the Byculla museum
"Light becomes an expressive device in his work. In each of his photos that involve a tedious and long process, light brings out a different emotion; tells a different story," says photographer and curator Ram Rahman about JH Thakker’s photography that’s on display at an exhibition, Silver Magic: Vintage Photographs of the Golden Age of Hindi Cinema, Portraits by JH Thakker at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum this week.
Meena Kumari Pics Courtesy/ JH Thakker@Vimal Thakker
Rahman will talk about Thakker’s work in his public lecture titled JH Thakker’s Studio Process. Rahman says Thakkar, who had set up India Photo Studio in Dadar in 1948, worked like a film director to create a narrative through still photos.
"Thakker’s elaborate and very careful lighting was done to create the mood. He was like a film director, making the actor create a persona and hold it for a still photograph, which is much harder for the actor than a theatre or film performance," he explains.
Artist Pushpamala N, with whom Thakker made a set of photographs between 2000 and 2003, had described his slow and meticulous composing and lighting process. "She said she had to hold her pose for three hours sometimes while he adjusted the lighting, until it was perfect for him," Rahman said.
Thakker would rarely create more than one exposure of a particular pose and the result could only be seen after the large negative had been processed and contact printed (contact sheets are the first gallery). And unlike today, when the digital image is instantly available, Rahman said back then there was no way of knowing exactly what was captured. "The portraits here are thus a result of a long working process in which the trust between the photographer and the actor is apparent. This is what makes Thakker’s work so unique in the studio photography tradition in India," he says. One look at Nargis lost in thought or Waheeda Rehman in her regal grandeur might give the viewer a faint idea of this attention to detail.
In context of Thakker’s work, Rahman will also discuss photographers around the world who have used light innovatively. "Studio lighting slowly came out of the studio with the advent of technology and smaller flashes and was being used in street photography. Philip DiCorcia, Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson in the US and Max Pincker in India have used studio lighting outdoors create fictional worlds on the street with a complex relationship to documentary reality," he says.
On: Today, 6 pm
At: Bhau Daji Lad Museum, 91 A, Rani Baug, Byculla (E).
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