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Prashant Panjiar’s reflective lens captures social realities
Prashant Panjiar is known for his carefully composed photographs. A self-taught artist, he adopts thoroughly meticulous approach towards work. Ordinary people, who lead rudderless lives, and yet show extraordinary spirit, have invariably been at the core of his practice that places him among the country’s very best photographers.

His latest series of images, entitled ‘Pan India – a shared habitat’ hosted at Mumbai based ICIA Gallery, comprises a wide array of rural vistas, cityscapes, and various habitats, forming the ubiquitous crosshatch of rampant urbanization. Culled from his vast body of work, it raises pointed queries about notions of development. He explores the underbelly of India’s faulty development claims, and reminds us of the unprivileged classes by stating, “It (development) becomes exclusive if it’s good for me, or else nothing really matters.”

The passionate photojournalist brings us closer to ground realities amidst India’s tall claims of development. He depicts the sense of dignity the underprivileged class exhibits irrespective of a deprived background and adversities. The works have all been shot on a panoramic camera and hence the title ‘Pan India – a shared habitat!’ On the one hand, the apt title suggests the technicality of the images on view, and on the other, the vast country that serves as a backdrop to them.

Prashant Panjiar launched his career with a portfolio of industrial shots in Pune. He joined journalism in 1984. He covered many significant events as part of his photographic assignments. Apart from having served on the World Press Photo Awards jury, he has undertaken several photographic projects on a range of sensitive social issues. He has edited a book, entitled ‘India – The Definitive Image’, from Dorling Kindersley and Penguin India.

Apart from a series of solos, the celebrated photographer has featured in several group shows like ‘Click - contemporary Photography in India’, Vadehra gallery, Delhi and Grosvenor Vadehra, London (2008), and ‘India – a Celebration of Independence’ in Philadelphia, London, Delhi and Mumbai (1997), among others. His ‘Pan India’ amplifies the artist’s continual engagement with the theme of migration. He has focused on the lives of construction workers who crisscross the country in search of work.

An essay in The DNA India, titled ‘India shot in transition’ provides a backgrounder on the show, mentioning: “India as a country is in a period of transition. Documenting this fast change is Prashant Panjiar with his 64 pictures that reflect the changing soul of the country. The photojournalist has taken over a decade to conceive and snap these pictures.

Elaborating on the thought process behind them, he states in an interview on eve of the show: “A huge amount of construction has taken place in most Indian cities 2000 onwards. My pictures try to unfold the story of Indians and their mindset at a time when the country is witnessing disproportional growth.” The images are in panoramic format that he started employing in 2000. He felt that the format could be organized around a theme of living habitats, and thus started exploring it. According to him, it expresses concerns on the new India’s skewed growth and construction and how people live (with it).

Prashant Panjiar is an artist ‘not in a hurry’. He approaches his subject matter with great sensitivity and empathy. To put it in his own words, his work has become non-dramatic over time, as he has opted out of ‘in-your-face’ photography. Instead he now prefers to take a pause, step back a bit, and let the action get over to shoot the aftereffects.

Regarding the content and compositions of his new series, he mentions that it’s more introspective in nature. Most of the images are rather simple. All the elements in them share a harmonious relationship. A viewer is moved rather than just getting impressed. This de-emphasizing of drama has been a marked evolution in his work, underling how life carries on even as the scenery collapses around us.

But what if habitats begin to appear incidental? How does one then emphasize the importance of a private living space? He states, “With all of modernity around us, if we are able to maintain a semblance of our individual identities, community, family, and therefore ownership – is what will keep India still very special.”

Prashant Panjiar sums up that the pictures are supposed to be reflective in nature, and not corrective, since he is not an activist.