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Author: Raghubir Singh
Publisher: Roli Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0714842117
A way into India was one of photographer Raghubir Singh’s last great projects before his death in 1999. Closely following his own design and layout, the book is a testament to his love affair with the sights, sounds and colors of India, but also with one of the country’s most unexpected icons- the ambassador car.
Continuously in production in India since 1957, the Ambassador is everywhere to be seen, in all possible guises, from delivery van to diplomatic limousine, and has become something quintessentially Indian. Traveling back and forth across the country, Raghubir Singh reveals India through the windows of the Ambassador.
Among the bustle of the towns and the majesty of the countryside there are rotting cars and pristine new ones being used as taxis and poultry vans. Temples and tourists, monsoon rains, paddy fields, tea plantations and elephants are dramatically framed by the Ambassador’s distinctive curves. The old and the new sit side by side, as Singh and the Ambassador show us a way into India.
EXCERPTS FROM REVIEWS
It’s difficult to take a good photograph in India. I tried every day for two months. The problem is the visual bombardment and overload. There is the constant flux of people (always those beautiful, curious eyes staring) and motorbikes and cars. There is the punctuation of color made vivid by its being surrounded by drabness. I could go on.
It was in India that I met Raghubir Singh and spent a day shooting with him. I have immense respect and admiration for the way he solves the problems. Raghubir Singh doesn’t photograph. Primarily he uses the automobile as a camera, a big black box with windows. He then includes this surrogate camera in the photograph, which provides large areas of black, reflections, transparencies and the dramatic arcs of the car’s design. The window provide frames that partition his photographs like a Mandarin.
There is his dualistic structuring. He blocks our vision of something we might want to see and then instead shows us something formerly unimportant, in other words he reverses hierarchies. He pits old against new. He makes gazes collide into a network of directional arrows- a constant ping-ponging. He uses light in a way that appears holy. His employment of colour should make some painters envious and his shifts in space call to mind Velazquez. I could go on and mention how he uses signage as text, his multi-narratives, his Orson Wellsian juxtaposition of near and far. What is remarkable is that most photographers can successfully employ only one or two of these strategies. Raghubir Singh can summon them all at precisely the right instant. He does what I wanted to do in India.
- John Baldessari