“I am not a maestro. I am just a person in front of you, having a conversation with you. Hope we learn from each other.”*
He was but a storyteller, someone who weaved tales out of light and shadow. On hindsight he was the revolution the Indian woman truly needed. He was the reassurance that beauty is not limited to deeply anorexic and lanky models strutting by in fashion shows. As an artist and an ace photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta was drawn to unconventional faces, he found beauty in places where nobody could. He perceived sexuality as something innate and powerful and used it to his advantage. Through his camera lens, even black and white appeared colourful reflecting on a cavalcade of emotions effortlessly, through a single snap shot.
Born to famous sculptor Pradosh Dasgupta, Prabuddha was trained to be a historian but he never became one. Instead he became a copywriter before meandering towards photography. A self taught photographer soon his lack of training became his greatest strength. “I read somewhere that anything that can be taught is probably not worth learning”- said he in an interview with The Telegraph when asked if he missed formal training.
A woman presumably a model is looking into the mirror while being decked up for her next photo shoot. Topless, she stood rather comfortably with kohl rimmed eyes intently gazing at her reflection while the photographer stood somewhere behind capturing the blissful moment unleashing her beauty. Prabuddha Dasgupta was fascinated by Indian women whose photographic representation had, till then, been only limited to glamorous models and bollywood actresses whose opulent lifestyle and mannerisms could barely embody the spirit of a coming age Indian woman whose accomplishments had long surpassed her male counterparts. In his book Women (1996) we see a host of portraits and nudes of urban Indian women who are captured in their element without an iota of doubt wavering in their minds. Elucidating further Dasgupta had once said, - “The challenge of nude photography does not lie with me, it lies with the woman who is baring herself, laying herself totally vulnerable in front of me.”* In ‘Women’ he captures his subjects with such passionate ease be it the expectant mother who stood uninhibited, wearing a tank top, glowing with happiness from the life growing inside of her or the crop haired woman, possibly a trainer who sat in her gymnasium smartly posing in track pants and shoes surrounded by dumbbells and other weight training equipments.
His next book Ladakh (2000) explored along the remnants of India’s last stretch of wilderness along the Tibetan plateau. The young freckled Buddhist monk, the even clouds sharply contrasted against the uneven landscape or the burdened yak with the backdrop of world’s highest mountain ranges, each picture of Dasgupta transcends beyond the obvious to tell a story, ever so beautiful. His last book Edge of Faith (2009) paints a portrait of the Catholic Community of Goa which even today suffers from a loss of identity – with the comforting nostalgia of the past, the ever developing present and the forever changing future. Through his camera lens we observe blurry coconut trees, hand clamped rosaries, beguiling households and churches which even today reflect a Portuguese spirit much more than Indian.
A Louis Vuitton vanity bag sits daintily on a similarly patterned trunk by a wall with an overview of the Jama Masjid. Three white and one coloured pigeon sit by gazing keenly at the azure sky. Prabuddha Dasgupta’s commissioned works have been equally if not more popular than his personal works. Over the last few decades he had worked for several international brands and magazines namely Vogue, GQ, L’Oreal and Hermes. Some of these pictures have featured his muse Lakshmi Menon.
“I am a lonely person. There is a desolation inside me. I don't know why, I don't know where it comes from. But my most personal work reflects that again and again.”*
Over the years, while Prabuddha grew as a person, his art matured along with him. Wherever he went, his camera followed. Wherever he was, there was an incessant urge to look past the obvious, to delve into something magical and humane at the same time. Wherever he was, there was a woman just as striking. Prabuddha passed away on August 12, but his work lives on. All for a man who lived in the humdrum of post colonial and liberalized India and wanted to revive art in its purest form.
*Quotes courtesy: Mr Sunil Bhandari