Nearly 500 of Roy’s photographs shot in black and white have been compiled in a new anthology, “History In The Making: The Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy” by Aditya Arya and Indevar Kamtekar. The book, published by Harper Collins-India and foreword by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will be launched at the Nehru Centre on June 3rd. “This book is for Roy”, says Arya, “a gentleman who encouraged me to pick up the camera. Sometimes I regretted quitting my work but I now realise I have given back to my profession as well as my country.” Hardbooks are available for £65, and a Limited Collector’s Edition ‘The Gandhi Collection’ with only 200 copies for £2000.
Roy sold many of his photographs to international news agencies during his lifetime and some of them are now found in archival collections, but they are rarely credited with his name. The photo of Gandhi arguing with Jinnah can be found among the archives of Getty Images, one of the world’s largest photo agencies, where it is simply attributed to a "stringer" for Topical Press, a long defunct London news service. “Roy had mailed the pictures to his address in Delhi, but they did not reach. Broken in spirit, he spent the last years of his life scouting post offices and hunting for boxes in garbage dumps of Delhi, placing ads in newspapers with rewards, and quit all his foreign assignments,” said Arya, who has spent the last 2 years restoring, collating and annotating Roy’s historical images.
Some of the events that Roy captured are Mahatma Gandhi in a heated debate with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a gentleman with whom he was seldom seen and who later when on to found Pakistan; Jacqueline Kennedy sharing a laugh with Nehruji; Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British viceroy, handing power to Nehru, India’s first prime minister; the Indian National Army Trials; Congress Party Meetings; Nehru and Ghaffar Khan strolling in Simla while Sardar Patel goes past in a palki; Nehru’s hand curled tenderly around grandson Rajiv’s neck, and many others.
The archive has excited historians who believe it may shed new light on key moments in India’s independence movement. It has also attracted attention for the commercial value of its images of historical figures ranging from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to Jacqueline Kennedy. "It is a real find," said Raghuraj Sing Chauhan, director of public relations and exhibitions at India’s National Museum. "They are historically important for the freedom struggle because many of these are quite rare photos."
Kulwant Roy (b. 1914, Lahore, then in India) was the head of an agency named "Associated Press Photographs", and was personally responsible for several iconic images of the Indian independence movement and the early years of the Republic of India. Roy grew up in Lahore before joining the Royal Indian Air Force where he specialised in aerial photography. After being discharged from the RIAF, he returned to Lahore, but moved to Delhi in 1940 where he set up a studio, which later expanded into a fully fledged agency. For a few years previously, he had been following Mahatma Gandhi in his travels around India in a third-class train compartment. That experience permitted him to gain insider status allowing him to record many crucial events of major participants in the independence movement.
Increasingly, he was eclipsed by a new breed of aggressive young photojournalists. The decorous press conferences and the chummy familiarity with politicians early Indian photojournalists like Roy had enjoyed were giving way to the scrum and the photo-op. Roy hung up his camera. He quickly faded into obscurity. "No one knew him or his past," Arya said. Roy was a frequent visitor to Arya’s parents’ home in New Delhi, having known Arya’s mother’s family from Lahore. But by the time Arya was old enough to remember him, Roy was a poor and lonely man. "He never wanted me to be a photographer because of the hardships and the fact that one has to live a life a bit like a vagabond," Arya said. But when Roy died of cancer, virtually penniless and with no children of his own, he left Arya his photo collection.
Aditya Arya started professional photography in 1980 after graduating in history from St Stephens College, Delhi University. After a brief stint in the Bombay Film Industry, he has been actively involved in advertising and corporate photography with leading brands and companies. He has published widely with many travel magazines and book publishers. Notable among them is his travel and documentation work in Nagaland published by Mapin, The Land of the Nagas.
May 24th launch – 6-7pm
June 3rd launch – 6-9pm
Aditya Arya is available for interview.