Acclaimed photojournalist Prashant Panjiar’s latest photobook ‘That Which Is Unseen’ was launched on September 18. Published by Ahmedabad-based Navajivan Trust, this book is a collection of photographs and backstories from Panjiar’s almost four decades of photography career. Navajivan Trust, founded by Mahatma Gandhi, is a publishing house with a good reputation and has published more than 800 titles in English, Hindi, Gujarati and other languages.
Every photograph has a story to tell. There is also a story behind every photograph, and often it never gets told. It is more so in the case of editorial photography – the story is often told by someone else and the photographs merely accompany the text. How much ever powerful a photograph is, it is the text that defines how a photograph is seen. Often the journey of the photographer, their ideology, experiences and intent get shrouded by other pressing demands placed by the agency that commissions and publishes the story. That way, what is seen has some missing elements, and most often we never get to hear what the photographer has to say.
Prashant Panjiar’s ‘That which Is Unseen’, is a unique book as far as Indian photo-journalism is concerned. It has more than 100 photographs, most of which have already been published. Those following the Indian political context are indeed familiar with most of these images. But then, it contains detailed texts narrating the behind-the-scenes “unseen” stories that led to the making of the photographs. An experience, a feeling, an untold information, even tidbits about the weather, add a new layer of meaning and interpretation. Because there are no restrictions or outside pressure, there is more freedom for the photographer to express in his words. That way, That which is Unseen is a perfect conceptual match to the below quote by Frédéric Bastiat with which the book begins “… an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession—they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen”.
Prashant’s oeuvre is largely editorial works, and because of that it has eventful historical and political relevance. Looking back, especially during these politically turbulent times, does open up a lot of dialogues. The book itself is chronologically presented, with significant events triggering memories of violence and pain. Importantly, the narration points to the underpinning thoughts and unsaid risks taken by the author in bringing out those exclusive shots that received international acclaim. In one instance, “Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on 31 October 1984 and the anti-Sikh riots that followed was probably a turning point for photojournalists in general and for me personally. Before 1984, we photojournalists had to only watch out for the cops who were inclined to thrash us and smash our cameras, but now there were violent mobs that were an even greater threat. And it has been like that ever since,” recounts Panjiar. In the book, the author also shares his ethical concerns and dilemmas while photographing the agony-filled moments. While asked about these anecdotal references he said, “Our work involves a certain invasion of privacy, which, though unfortunate, is there. But one thing is, you have to recognise that the work is important… important enough to invade and do that work serving its larger meaning or reason. In the case of natural calamities, those stories and images have to be brought to the larger public. The world has to know about these things that are happening elsewhere. But, you have to be respectful and sensitive about people’s feelings while doing the work”.
Panjiar considers the work titled The Flag at Fifty as his signature image that would become his identity. It already has been the cover of Outlook’s 50 Years of Independence commemorative issue. It has also been extensively published, including on the cover of historian Ramchandra Guha’s book “Makers of Modern India”. Panjiar tells the story of when and how that image was made. It was rather a failed photo-op event – due to weather conditions the Guinness World record aspirant had to abandon the stunt of jumping from the Air Force parachute with the largest flag. While most others had left with the standard, posed photos, Panjiar was hanging around the tarmac and when he saw the wind whipped the flag up into the sky like a massive wave, he instinctively took a few shots.
The photobook release function was a simple gathering led by Vivek Desai at the Navajivan Trust where an exhibition of about 30 digital prints of Panjiar also opened to the public. In the coming days, there is a plan for a series of one-on-one discussions with the author, with the premiere talk launched at the Museo camera on 26th September 2021. MAP Bangalore in collaboration with BIC will be organising an online event this October.
THAT WHICH IS UNSEEN
Hard Cover | Size: 170 X 230 mm | Pages: 154 pages, including gatefolds
Images & Texts: Prashant Panjiar
Publisher: Navajivan Trust
Price: Rs 3000
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Read Interview with Prashant Panjiar here.