Photography: The camera reveals the essence of India

India: A Celebration of Independence 1947-1997

Royal Festival Hall, London

The aim of this exhibition, of both Indian and non-Indian photographers, is an ambitious one: "To convey something of the quality that unites India's people - no matter how profound their differences." It's the stock-in- trade of humanist photography: to look below the surface and reveal an essence - pride, industry, fortitude, confidence - that we all share. But to achieve this in work about a country with a startlingly diverse cultural mix and over a period of 50 years, from post-colonial birth pains to modern industrial power, could be seen as inviting trouble.

Perhaps, as Raghu Rai, one of the 23 photographers whose work is shown here, says, it is the pace of India that, if anything, unites it. And it is that pace that the exhibition captures so well.

Sunil Janah's India on the brink of independence is a land of great men, heavy industry, mourning or celebrating crowds. The subtext is of patient resolve and faith in the bright future of a young country. The work of Henri Cartier-Bresson shares some of this monumental nation-building ambition: Indira Gandhi at a Congress session sits serenely below an image of her father (and father of the nation), Nehru; Nehru shares a joke with Lady Mountbatten outside Government House as Earl Mountbatten stands diffidently, uncomfortably, to their side. But the strength of Cartier-Bresson's contribution, and of the exhibition as a whole, is the work that is less purposeful and opens a door to the quirks and rhythms of everyday life.

This can be seen in "Snake Charmer with Son", taken by Mary Ellen Mark in 1981 - a relaxed and intimate portrait of family life, saturated with colour, unmannered yet depicting a scene of otherness to Western eyes. Sanjeev Saith, Harry Gruyaert and Alex Webb's use of colour, meanwhile, is more often an end in itself, an abstraction of the riots of clashing hues - film posters, advertisements and clothes - that bewilder the eye on every street.

The exhibition, too, focuses on the margins of modern Indian society. Dayanita Singh's studies of eunuchs in Delhi blur the distinction between family snapshot and reportage; Ketaki Sheth's pictures of Bombay street weddings, folk dancers and behind-the-scenes Bollywood replace the studied formalism of the "critical moment" with spontaneous, crowded scenes that each suggest their own story.

The range of topics touched on in the exhibition is as diverse as the country itself: political and religious conflict, new roles for Indian women in the armed forces, the tensions and possibilities that surface when traditional ways of life collide with the present. From the earnest perfection of Sebastiao Salgado's studies of the working population to Charles Lindsay's smoke-softened industrial landscapes, it seems as if all of India were here. Photographs are always quotes out of context, "tiny sparks of accident", as the critic Walter Benjamin put it, but what better text from which to quote.

Admission to the exhibition, sponsored by Ford and Prudential, is free. Enquiries: 0171-960 4242

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee