Raghubir Singh pushed the genre of street photography into a world of living color. Born in Jaipur, Rajasthan, to an aristocratic Indian family, Singh (1942–1999) lived in Hong Kong, Paris, London, and New York—but his eye was perpetually drawn back to his native India.
The retrospective Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs traces the full trajectory of the visionary photographer’s career through nearly 90 images, from his early work in the late 1960s to his last, unpublished projects of the late 1990s. After starting his career as a photojournalist, Singh soon began to pursue an artistic vision that stood, as he put it, “on the Ganges side of Modernism.”
Singh was deeply influenced by the work of famed French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and the cinematic vision of Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Yet unlike his artistic role models, Singh was never tempted to shoot in black and white. Working with a handheld camera and color slide film, he recorded India’s dense milieu in complex, frieze-like compositions: teeming with incident, fractured by reflections, and often framed by the curved windows of India’s iconic car, the Ambassador.
This important survey of Singh’s work coincides with Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India, an exhibition of royal Indian treasures on view in the Law Building. The concurrent presentations offer Museum visitors the opportunity to view the type of Indian court paintings that informed Singh’s photographic style over the course of his storied career.