A Photo-Ethnographic Study, Ancient Life and Research, Ancient Travellers, Gujarat, India, Photographic Stories, Tales from Rural India
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Jyoti Bhatt : A Tribute to a Living Legend : A Photographic Essay on Rural Gujarati Indian Life(1971-1987)

Since the 1970s, I have concentrated on documenting living art in rural homes that have been rapidly disappearing because of modern, consumerist lifestyles. Not that this is the kind of photography I like doing or I am passionate about, but somebody has to document these lifestyles before they get lost forever.”

Jyotibhai, as Jyoti Bhatt is fondly called, is 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.

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I was very close to start working on a film based on his life and travels that i so wished had happened, but just could not materialise. But who do not know of his towering work which has helped to restore a significant part of rural Gujrati lifestyle; i am sharing a decade of his work that he documented from 1971 to 1987.

I also believe that had he not been there it wouldn’t have been possible for us to see how life in Gujarat at that time was. As a documentarian myself, in this last month of 2021, paying my tribute to the master.

Also see: When Krishna calls : Travels in Vrindavan



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.”

Also Read : Love in Himachal Pradesh

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.

Also see : When a wedding arrived Magically in Rajasthan

Initially, this work was done for a seminar, but it soon became one of the artist’s passions to document traditional Indian craft and design work. The disappearing arts of rural Gujarat became a focus. Though Bhatt’s investigations into a village and tribal designs certainly influenced the motifs he used in his printmaking, Bhatt considers his documentary photographs to be an art form in themselves. His direct and simply composed photographs have become valued on their own merit.

This huge body of work is perhaps the best assembled photographic documentation that pertains to “The Baroda School” of Indian art.


He was awarded with Padmashri, India’s fourth highest civilian award in 2019.

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Its impossible in ways to have even met an artist, a documentarian of his calibre. To have come close to even start thinking of making a film on him.

Today, he is 87 and I will only wish that somehow a film compiling his works, his life, no matter however directed, should come out before we lose all of it. His experiences of that time and era must be recorded.

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I hope you enjoyed.

We will continue with Finding the Brahma Kamal in the higher Himalayas, after Christmas.

Thank you


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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste

And I will take this opportunity to introduce you to About me and importantly;

As a Traveller, my lessons from ten years on the Road , even though its been many more, before you coarse on your own Road to Nara.

 : ँ :


To follow my walks through the rural Indian Subcontinent, find me at 
Narxtara | Road to Nara | Narayan Kaudinya

by

Hi, I am Narayan Kaudinya. And i welcome you on this journey, the Road to Nara ! I am an Ethnographer and a practicing Indologist. I did my masters in History and further learnt Sanskrit, Yoga and Nerve-therapy. At 24, pushing most academic sounding, office sitting works away, i felt compelled to know and understand the world and my country, Bharat/India. I travelled, and as it happened i took up teaching in Kashmir and further up in the remote villages of Baltistan in the foothills of Karakoram Ranges. For around three years and many states later there came a time when i felt that it was only while teaching i learnt how to laugh, to see, feel, breathe, love and cry -with children, and mostly resource-less parents in the harshest-freezing border conditions. I write, and work as a documentary photographer and Filmmaker, with numerous published, exhibited and some awarded stories. In my travels and life i have let nature lead me, the divine mother, and as a Yogin, my resolve here is to share my experiences and thoughts as honestly, and through them to blossom in everyone the power and possibility in pursuing your breath, that you seek your true nature with courage and curiosity. Here, on this road i will share my spirit, my love for nature, the elements of life that are us. And in doing so, i'll be happy to see you along.

92 Comments

  1. My Goodness, Narayan, what a wonderful and fascinating documentary this is!!
    To write about it properly, I will have to read and look at least a few times. I already noticed the symbolic peacock and the ingenious method of panting.
    I will be back soon!!

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh dear Narayan! i am overwhelmed. many times i must come back and look again at these artworks. How they talk! always respect and dignity you do so much bro!. love to you and yours from sis xo

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am so grateful you shared these beautiful photographs, and your lovely tribute to the artist/photographer!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Your posts are just so full of the depth and richness of human life. They are so beautiful. As people and cultures are. Your ability to distill this is remarkable. A joy to see and read. Stay safe and well my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Today’s post about Jyoti Bhatt’s photographic documentary of Gujarati art and lifestyle is not only his masterpiece but yours too. His desire to photograph and document Indian rural culture
    is what passionately motivates your own writing and filming, and it is not surprising that you have written this magnificent tribute to this giant of a man. Without Jyoti Bhatt, we would not know of the astonishing beauty of Gujarati villages and how skilled and inspired these artists are. The intricate designs need to be examined line by line to see everything they contain:
    the symbolic peacock and his family, the several suns, the trees, the mountains or hills, even a lorry, the floating lights, and an imaginative combination of others. As they a painted with strong, natural colors you can only imagine the breathtaking effect when you walk into their homes!! I loved the perfection and beauty of every thatched roof!
    It was my joy to see the tall containers because I have the same at my home.
    Jyoti Bhatt studied and then taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda, and was awarded for his work. I think that a film about his life and work should be made by you, Narayan.
    Thank you for introducing us to Jyoti Bhatt!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were almost ready to do a film on him but circumstances Came such I had to.leave the project and it never came back again. Neither no one else has taken it up since then.

      I hope Joanna. If it has to be done. It will be done.

      Thanks
      Narayan x

      Like

  6. KK says

    A beautiful tribute to the great man, Jyoti Bhatt. Thank you, Narayan ji for introducing him and sharing his story alongwith some of his wonderful works.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you, Nara, for introducing me to Jyoti Bhatt and his outstanding work. The photographs are amazing and I think you really should make that film! Some of the artwork reminds me of the ancient cave paintings (Lascaux & Chauvet in France, and the rock art of Australian aborigines). Amazing!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What a gift Nara to enrich us all with your incredible art . How amazing is his talent and watching the process was incredible. You bring us such great rich history. Happy birthday to him and may he live many more. 💖💖

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It would indeed be tragic if the old cultures were lost. There are already so many around the world that has simply been absorbed, traditional clothing replaced with western shorts and t-shirts and ancient belief systems shattered. So this photography is a treasure. Thank you for introducing us to it Nara.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I really enjoyed reading this and the photographs. You’ve done such stellar work in documenting rural Gujerati life; it’s a real treasure because our folk arts and crafts are so endangered now. Thanks for sharing. This didn’t open on the site so I’m replying on the reply button that came with the post.

    Warm regards,

    Diti.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, I understood that the photos were by Mr. Bhatt but you’re documenting his work and I think, that’s equally important too. I would have never heard of or seen his work if you hadn’t written about it. So thanks a lot!😊😊

        Like

    • It is strange that you pointed out dear Diti, because I couldn’t open and come onto your site to read your current post.

      Strange it wasn’t happening before.
      Thank you Diti

      Will see the issue again

      Like

      • Actually Narayan, I think it’s because of a goof up on my part. I was going through my latest post yesterday, when it suddenly got published inadvertently and I had to delete it. So you probably got the mail notification but because I deleted the post immediately, it didn’t open on the site. I’ve published it today and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be visible. Thanks so much for pointing it out and for your interest.😊

        Like

      • Yes, “untouched and other worldly life.”
        I am drawn to the expressions on their faces. It is a mixture of innocence, little wariness, joy, curiosity, shyness and much more.
        Thank you for sharing Narayan.
        Stay blessed.

        Like

  11. The art in these photos are amazing! It is as if they are telling stories of the past. Wonderfully taken. Everything is so precisely arranged. Thank you for sharing. I read every word.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. What important work he did, what precious photos these are. I can see, and appreciate his style of simple photographs, just the aim-and-shoot kind. “I have always believed in content over form.” With this style he captured what was most meaningful.
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Michael Graeme says

    Thank you, Narayan. Another wonderfully evocative and informative post. I was particularly struck by the method of “shadow” or “stencil” painting. It reminded me that it was the method used in some cave paintings from the Neolithic period, so being a connection with our deepest past. It’s a pity the modern world cannot leave room for such intricate and socially significant rural cultures to survive intact. Instead, they are absorbed by the spread of urbanisation and everywhere ends up looking the same.

    Like

    • Michael thank you for writing. It seems that you must be enjoying this weather, and all the festivities that go with approaching christmas. I also apologize for writing little late.

      I do not know what to do, apart from letting it be; how can one preserve something which does not seem to hold value anymore. It isn’t even counted as touristy as there must be no good hotels with a pool for visitors. More so when children themselves are so busy learning and dancing off from the videos on youtube. Its just a dead end, howsoever we may talk about preservation and conservation. I almost seem to be talking like you ha ha like the other day.

      Anyways, Michael, always in gratitude for your support and words. Always.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Stuti Mali says

    This is amazing. Haven’t had many opportunities to know about our own gems. May be you are that one which can bring them to light like you anyhow do and yourself are, Narayan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are being too kind Stuti. I am just doing what i know. And absolutely he is a gem and his works should be conserved soon and in the best way possible.

      Narayan x

      Like

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