For many years, Kishor Parekh was one of Indias foremost photo journalists
though he was not always based in his native country.
He served as an inspiration and role model for many younger photographers
hoping to follow in his footsteps.
Pablo Bartholomew was one of them and here profiles the man who pioneered
photo stories in the Indian press.
Kishor was a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy. Running into the eye of the storm
was his style.
At least thats the way I remember him from my teenage days in the 1970s,
the man who occasionally took me out from my high school to be his assistant,
helping to carry his bags on shoots around New Delhi.
India was a young nation, thirsty for new expression.
For six years from 1961, as Chief Photographer for New Delhis premier
newspaper the Hindustan
Times, Kishor fought for his photos rather than go with the flow at
a time when the photographer was just an accompaniment to the journalist. Editorially,
images were not valued and he wrestled with all around him to make the change.
Finishing his Masters in filmmaking and documentary photography studies at
the University of Southern California in 1960, Kishor had already won numerous
A year later returning to India, he grappled with editors and colleagues to
create a space and niche for his photos.
It was unheard for a photo to run across eight columns on the front page. But
Kishor won his battles, not because of any personal chemistry with the owners
of Hindustan Times but because of reader response to his sensitive images.
Introducing the idea of the picture story to India, he was deeply influenced
by the work of Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Margaret Bourke-White.
He was hip and suave and yet a street fighter when needed. In the post-colonial
1960s with India at war with neighbors China (1962) and Pakistan (1965)
and with hunger and famine still dogging the nation including the Bihar
Famine of 1966 - Kishor proved his mettle.
The strong emotional images of the horrors of the famine were used to fund
raise with exhibitions in Mumbai (Bombay) and Los Angeles in the US.
He closely documented the political lives of Indias politicians and leaders,
photographing first Prime Minister Nehru till his death in 1964.
It was reported that Kishors persistence once led to Nehru slapping him
Early one morning, when he was photographing Nehru at prayer at the Gandhi
Samadhi, the Prime Minister thought Kishor was too close and intruding in a
private and solemn moment.
An angry Nehru asked him what he was doing and ordered him to get out. Kishor
stood his ground saying this is what people would want to see and that he was
doing his job.
The Hindustan Times carried the picture next day and Nehru's office
called to request ten copies of that photograph.
When Prime Minister Nehru died, Kishors exhibition of images of him became
a point of pilgrimage for the nation.
In 1967 Kishor moved to Asia Magazine in Hong Kong and then became Picture
Editor for Pacific Magazine
in Hong Kong and Singapore till about 1972, capturing picture stories of the
region in color. In 1971, India became embroiled in its third battle with Pakistan
and Bangladesh was born. Kishor became restless. His wife Saroj remembers a
trip to the beach in Hong Kong:
He (Kishor) liked painting. He was feeling very restless. He said My
country is burning and here I am painting. He decided then that he had
to go to India to cover the war.
He tried to board a helicopter but was stopped by soldiers.
Recalls Saroj: As the chopper was about to leave, he broke the cordon
and jumped into the chopper. The army Major on board refused to take off. "Shoot
me or take me" Kishor said. With extreme stubbornness he managed to convince
the Major but (on) condition that once he was in Dhaka he was on his own.
Bangladesh was Kishors highest point. Self-assigned, self-funded, driven
by his own instincts, emotions and guts, in a two week period he produced a
startling set of images that became a powerful book and statement.
He spent 24 days sleeping at work and not coming home - processing and
printing. He had already lost 15 pounds. And thats when the book Bangladesh-
A Brutal Birth was born. The Indian government, in spite of having hordes
of cameramen shooting for them, requested 20,000 copies, remembers Saroj.
In 1972 Kishor moved back to Bombay (Mumbai) and did more commercial and advertising
work. The last time I met Kishor was when he came to my first black and white
exhibition of photographs in Bombay, 1981.
He said to me: Ill show you young boy, what I am made off, Im
off to the Himalayas to work on a project
I am returning to work that
I love, I am still young you know.
A year later, one learnt, Kishor was no more. He died amongst the mountains
on a photographic quest. His son, Swapan, is continuing the family tradition
behind the lens.
Says Swapan: His last picture was that of a flower. He shot the picture,
immediately put down his F2 without dropping it and breathed his last. He suffered
from a single heart attack and died on the spot.
I remember Kishor like a wrestler (a pahalwan). His stocky build, his attitude
and arrogance, his body language and his speech.
This man personified might, held himself with great confidence but had inner
strength and intelligence.
His work was a landmark for Indian photography and through his images he became
an inspiration for many of us.