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 The Eye Behind the camera –

Interview with T. Kasinath

In this issue we include an interview with Mr. T. Kasinath, the doyen of Indian photography. During the course of his long career as a photographer Mr. Kasinath has held several exhibitions and received over 400 awards on photographic salons and contests. He was Editor (Photos), Publication Division and also Director, Photo Division, Ministry of Information and broadcasting.

Recently Mr. Kasinath helped IGNCA as Technical Consultant in setting up an exhibition of Raja Deen Dayal’s photographs. The interview elicits his views on photography and also on the work of Raja Deen Dayal.

Q: Mr. Kasinath, how far do you consider photography as an art?

TK. Photography has different meanings for different people. Some people use it only as a recording medium. In this sense, it has wide application in different facets of life, for example, journalism, industry, medicine, sociological research. These people use the camera as a tool for documentation. But there are also others who handle the camera essentially as a means of self-expression. I would call the second category "camera artists". So it depends upon who is handling the camera.

Q. Can you explain what is it that you mean by the term ‘art’ in this context?

TK. To put it in a nutshell, I call a photograph a work of art when it has a timeless quality – that is, it should enchant the viewer in the same way as it did fifty years back or a hundred years back.

Q. You have been instrumental in holding this exhibition on Raja Deen Dayal for IGNCA. Before we come to that, could you tell me a few words about your self as a photographer?

TK. Well, I don’t talk much about myself. My father was a photographer based in Bangalore. He nurtured my interest in photography in my childhood; in fact I used to spend time with him in the dark room. Later I learned how to use the camera, but initially I didn’t want to take it up as a profession at all. Prof. Visveswarayya, the eminent scientist, was the first to promote photography by setting up an institute, and at his instance I joined there as an Instructor. In Delhi, when the government set up a photography Department I was selected as Photographic Officer in 1948. Later I served in different capacities as Editor (Photos), and Director, Photo Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

In initial years, there was a lot of demand for press photographs. Photo features interested me a lot, because they provided scope for creativity, and gave me immense pleasure as a photographer. In fact someone had remarked about one of my photographs, that it looked like a painting! I have also been influenced by some of the great photographers of the time when I entered this field…

Q. What is your assessment of Raja Deen Dayal as a photographer in the context of the colonial tradition of India in the nineteenth century?

TK. Foreget the colonial tradition. We will dwell on what made Deen Dayal a great photographer. At the time when he made an entry into the field, photography was still an elitist preoccupation. I tried to get some information about the early days of Deen Dayal, but did not get much. For about thirty years, he does not seem to have done any serious photography at all; it was in 1874 that he settled on this profession. Deen Dayal himself came at a time when wet plates were being replaced by dry plates in photography, and this gave him considerable freedom. But then still photography was in its formative stages. The cameras were huge and unwieldy, and it took about 15 minutes to set them up. Inspite of such constraints, Deen Dayal managed to produce outstanding photographs. I have had a look at his negatives; they are of excellent quality, and there is a lot to learn from him.

Q. So Raja Deen Dayal was using dry plates throughout?

TK. I cannot be very sure about this, but this is my own reading. The first Dry Plate Company was in Liverpool, England. I have a feeling that some lenses may have been specially made for him. Some of those lenses are there in IGNCA which say they were made for Deen Dayal himself.

Q. Coming back to the exhibition itself, can you say a few words about its setting up?

TK. I have known Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan for the last forty years, and when she wanted to put up this exhibition, I gladly agreed to do so. There was no proper dark room to start with, and so we had to start by setting up one in Central Vista Mess, IGNCA. IGNCA staff and some of my students gave me all the technical help I needed.

Q. What was the idea behind the divisions of the exhibition as The Place’, ‘The People’ and ‘The Event’?

TK. Raja Deen Dayal must have exposed thousands of negatives, but only about two thousand have survived. These prints were categorized into the sections you have mentioned, according to these basic themes, to show that he handled each of them in a masterly way. All the photographs are of excellent quality, though some people have criticized the paper that we have used…

Q. Do you have any comment on that?

TK. What is wrong with the paper? I think that the paper was excellent. We had enlarged the prints. I feel that the photographs should be of a large format so that people can appreciate them and have an idea of Deen Dayal as a photographer. We have not used original prints of Deen Dayal for this exhibition. Later on when IGNCA sets up a special gallery for Raja Deen Dayal, the original ones could be displayed.

Thank you very much, Mr. Kasinath. It was a wonderful experience talking to you.


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