This is a photograph of the eminent Padma Shree Contemporary Post Modernist Indian Artist Jyotindra Bhatt. He is Popularly Known as Jyoti Bhatt. He s one of the founder members of the Center of Photography, Baroda. Before he turned to photography, however, Bhatt began his artistic career as a painter and a printmaker in the 1950s. He worked as a painter from 1954 to 1969 and also taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda. He says, “I was never interested in studies. You may say that since I was not good for anything else in life, I became a painter. I studied painting and printmaking at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, under stalwarts like N. S. Bendre, Sankho Chaudhari and K. G. Subramanayan. In the 70s, I learnt the intaglio method of printing and screen painting.”
But by then, the desire to photograph and document India’s vanishing culture had already lured him. “I have photographed everything, from intricately carved doors to floors, pots, pans, walls, houses that is part of our folk art in rural India. My camera replaced my sketchbook.”
Bhatt’s journey as a photographer began in 1967, when the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mumbai asked him to photograph Gujarat’s folk art. On his travel through rural Gujarat he photographed wide range of things including bandhani and other Kutch crafts, traditionally tattooed bodies, havelis, painted temples and embroidery.
Deeply impressed by Anand Coomaraswamy’s book ‘Mediaeval Sinhalese Art’, Bhatt realised that folk art has many strands which reinforce one another. “Each work of art provides an avenue of creativity, and refines human sensibilities and responses. Living within a creative network, an individual artist attains a special stature and refinement. The disappearance of the network, with the breakdown of traditional cultures, is bound to cause cultural impoverishment,” he says.
His best known work is the documentation of the rangoli tradition in Gujarat and Maharashtra. “It was probably introduced in Gujarat through Maharashtra during the rule of Gaekwads,” he says.
Bhatt doesn’t indulge in technical gimmicks; his photographs are simple, just the aim-and-shoot kind. “I have always believed in content over form.”
At times, Bhatt works in tandem with sculptor Raghu Kaneria. Their work together includes the documentation of women artists in tribal hamlets. “During festivals, women decorate the cattle. In every tribal hamlet, there are women artists. Though they are paid for the job, the remuneration is not so high to become a source of livelihood. They use a lot of bright colours and narrative format. Artists draw inspiration from mythological tales and the paintings are believed to protect tribal families from evil forces,” says Bhatt.
Bhatt claims that he has never regretted taking to photography as an art form. “The photo-documentation work is equally creative. Also, my work has brought into spotlight those umpteen tribal artists who were deprived of any recognition or reward, he states.
Jyoti Bhatt lives and works in Baroda.