Jyoti Bhatt has been actively engaged with photography since the mid-1960s, and his photographs constitute an important chapter in the history of photography in India. The MAP Collection includes a notable archive of over 3,000 vintage and modern photographs by the artist; and this special collection provides an introduction to his work by presenting key works from this archive – including his rural studies and experimental work.
Jyotindra Manshankar Bhatt (b. 1934), popularly and commonly known as Jyoti Bhatt, is an Indian artist who has worked primarily with printmaking, painting and photography. He was born in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, and grew up in a stimulating environment where his father managed an institute called Shishu-Vihar which trained and guided young art students. Influenced by his background, Bhatt took an interest in drawing at an early age. He studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda, and also fresco painting at Banasthali Vidyaputh in Rajasthan before he began teaching. In 1961, Bhatt won a scholarship to study at the Academia Di Belle Arti in Naples for two years. From Italy, he went to the Pratt institute in New York, where he trained in the graphic arts. Bhatt returned to Vadodara in 1966 and continued to teach painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts there. However, his interests began to deviate away from painting and move towards printmaking and photography.
Photography’s struggle to be considered as an art form in the Indian context has been a long one, and Jyoti Bhatt was an integral part of this process. Beginning in the mid-sixties Bhatt travelled all over India photographing, for over three decades, the folk and indigenous art forms of rural regions that he was concerned rapid modernity and industrialisation post-Independence would entirely obliterate in time. The corpus of his photographic work, predominantly from rural environments in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar, these photographs highlighted the manner in which the art practices of traditional societies are intrinsically connected to human sensibility.
Further, along with six other artists from Baroda, he organised a show titled Painters with a Camera in 1969. One of the first exhibitions of its kind, it was a momentous event, since as Bhatt notes, even if “the works were not great photographs, it showcased painters who accepted the camera as a potential tool for their expression.” At a time when the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy for Visual Arts, refused to show photographs in its shows, Bhatt recounts how he sneaked in a photographic collage as a ‘silver gelatin print’ — titled A Face, his submission for the ‘Graphic Art’ section of their Annual Art Exhibition in 1971 went on to be selected by the jury, only because they did not associate the term ‘silver gelatin print’ with photography.
Bhatt’s disinclination to be labelled, whether as photographer, painter or print-maker, stems from a fluid understanding of mediums, and an ultimately larger investment in the visual form. His experimental photographs therefore, reflect his sensibility as a graphic artist, just as his prints reflect a photographer’s perspective. Even within his photographic oeuvre, while his images may be classified as social documentary or formalist, Bhatt’s use of the medium often defies rigid categorisation, moving instead between meanings and ideas, and cementing his formative position in the history and evolution of photography in India.
Bhatt’s photographs are held in over twenty-six public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, Delhi; the Uffizi Gallery, Florence; the Tate Modern, London and the British Museum, London. He has won numerous prizes including The Presidents Gold Plaque, gold medal at the International Print Biennale, Italy; UNESCO Photo contest, Japan and the top prize at the ‘FOTOKINA’ World Photography Contest, Germany. Bhatt has also painted a number of public murals including at Parliament House, New Delhi. To date, he has had several solo shows, both in India and abroad. He lives and continues to work in Vadodara, India.