A photographer’s flashback

Two years back, Goa-based photographer Prashant Panjiar started recollecting anecdotes, stories and behind-the-scenes musings of different photographs he had taken during his 30-year career as a photojournalist, and started posting them on his social media handles. This not only incited interest among those who have been following his work, but also Navajivan Trust, a non-profit publishing house founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1929 which approached him for a book. “The result is ‘That Which is Unseen’ which will be released in April-May and has around 60 images and the stories around them,” said Panjiar, a self-taught photographer who got drawn towards the medium during the Emergency.

The recent lockdown owing to the pandemic gave him enough space and time to complete the book and some long pending projects. “I have been working from home since 2001. It has been about going to assignments and coming back to work. The lull during the lockdown period allowed me to put my archive in order and finish several incomplete projects, some of which had been hanging for more than a decade,” says the photographer, just back from a three-week project. “This was the first travel after the lockdown was imposed,” said Panjiar whoworks on issues of health, education and livelihood across Asia and Africa for international non-profit organisations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, American India Foundation, UNFPA, IPPF & HIV-AIDS Alliance.

Someone who founded the Delhi Photo Festival along with photographer Dinesh Khanna, has served on the jury of the World Press Photo Awards and is associated with the Goa Open Arts Festival believes there has been a downward slide in photo festivals after the boom witnessed post the Delhi Photo Festival in 2011. Believing that it was bound to happen, and now things are stabilising to a more sustainable model, Panjiar said, “I really don’t think it is necessary to have a photo festival everywhere just for the sake of it. It should be held at places that can afford a location and attract a synergy with the space, city, and its history. The best example of a festival that has worked around a city and its cultural context is Photo Kathmandu. It’s based in Patan, and is shown there in the community which also participates in it. Or look at The Rencontres d’Arles which takes place in the South of France, which has a lot of tourist influx, takes place during the the holiday season and allows allows people to have a different kind of holiday which has a cultural ethos.

Another example is the Kochi Biennale — it caters to a large art crowd, there is part of Kerala culture, the city has been a travelling point of various cultures, and travellers and tourists are coming even now. Now just because I am in Jhumri Talia doesn’t mean that I should have one festival there. To think of a festival just in terms of ownership of a place or a community is self-defeating. It has to have an audience, which comes from diverse places,” he said.

Adding that mushrooming of photo, art and literature festivals all around the country will not necessarily create an atmosphere for a more vibrant scenario, he said, “It can work at fragmenting things rather than making them better. Each one of them has to be well planned so that as a visitor, you can visit all of them.”

Talking about the Goa Open Arts Festival which did not take place this year owing to the pandemic, but gave grants to five (and one by Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai), Panjiar said that although after last year’s successful festival, initially they were planning to make it an annual event, but later decided on making it once in two years. “Artists across genres — writers, poets, musicians etc take part and its first edition was quite a success in terms of engagement. However, it’s a voluntary effort and it takes a lot to raise money. Now it will happen in 2022.”

Talk to Panjiar about the increasing number of artists from across the country moving to Goa, and he said that those who came around twenty years back were the ones who valued the privacy of the coastal region, and many invested in properties as a holiday home while they worked in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. “It was after the year 2000, when people who worked independently and did not have to be in one place started finding this place very attractive. Now the independent ones happened to the creative lot — designers, musicians, artists, filmmakers. This was a younger lot but the difference was that they wanted to engage with Goa. They didn’t want to lock themselves in one house and write that magnum opus.”

Adding that there was a lot of exchange happening, Panjiar said that the original younger lot of Goan artists came together to form the Goa Artists Collective. “Several things happened simultaneously. Subodh Kerkar had the Museum of Goa going. Now we are witnessing a lot of collaborations. We are looking forward to more engagement between artists living here and outside.”