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Jayanta Saha, a street photographer of the city

Calcutta through the lens of a photographer

Jayanta Saha, the 77-year-old photographer has been roaming the streets of Calcutta for over five decades, capturing the city in his camera

By Anasuya Basu

  • Published 1.09.19, 12:19 AM
  • Updated 1.09.19, 3:00 PM

His Bible is The Family of Man, an exhibition of 503 pictures from 68 countries curated for the Museum of Modern Art by Edward Steichen, the Luxembourgish American photographer, painter, curator. When the travelling exhibition arrived in Calcutta in the late 1950s, Jayanta Saha, a street photographer of the city, was a slip of a boy. He visited the exhibition several times with his father and elder brother.

The art of photography is a dynamic process of giving form to ideas and of explaining man to man. This line written by Steichen, Saha internalised as his definition of photography.

Saha took early retirement from his job as an IT programmer in a public sector company to roam the streets of the city with his Nikon, Leica, Canon lenses. That was 1966. Says the 77-year-old, “The city of Calcutta has a vibrant life flowing around it. There is no dearth of ideas here. Ideas come from emotion but the content or form is an intellectual thing.”  

Jayanta Saha
Photo Credit: Jayanta Saha

The shot was taken at Barnaparichay on College Street, the half-finished project to rehabilitate publishers. Says Saha, “I was in Thanthania and it was pouring. I got inside. I noticed that the wall had an interesting pattern on it. With it as a backdrop, there was an interesting space, almost like a stage. There were lines, tone, depth of field, structure, wires crossing, the geometric shape along with the dog provided a touch of surrealism.”

Jayanta Saha
Photo Credit: Jayanta Saha

Central Calcutta. A man in a rickshaw with a gramophone. One might presume the photograph is of an old Calcutta, taken some time 70 to 80 years ago. But there are giveaways aplenty that will help the viewer date the picture correctly. “There is a conflict of time and space,” says Saha enigmatically.

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Jayanta Saha
Photo Credit: Jayanta Saha

At a blood donation camp, a donor’s friend came and placed a sunflower just where the syringe had pierced her skin.

Jayanta Saha
Photo Credit: Jayanta Saha

“It’s as if the lady was buying the last pineapple of her life,” says Saha. “Look at how she is examining it in the short time available to her,” he urges. The expressions on the other faces too are priceless.

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Jayanta Saha
Photo Credit: Jayanta Saha

A protest march at Allen Park against the rape of a 60-year-old nun at Ranaghat in Nadia district.

Jayanta Saha
Photo Credit: Jayanta Saha

Ahiritola Ghat. A parked car. A sticker of a horse on the rear windscreen. An idol of Gopal. A man leaving the bathing ghats. “The horse and the man were counterbalancing each other here,” explains Saha. Again there were the horizontal lines of the railing and the stairs in the background.

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Jayanta Saha
Photo Credit: Jayanta Saha

An early morning shot of two men. “While the young man is standing on his head, the older one is on his feet. I found the contrast interesting,” says the photographer.

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