Photo Focus: Raghubir Singh

Welcome to Photo Focus, where I examine a single photograph. These short essay’s will give a greater insight into the individual image beyond its context within a group of photographs.Furthermore, this is inspired by an idea a professor of mine always discussed in graduate school. He would talk about what about the photograph brought the viewer in and kept his or her attention. I discuss what personally draws me to the particular photograph and hope that that gives you an entrance as well.


Raghubir Singh is one of the most well-known Indian photographers from the 1980’s and 1990’s. He worked as a street photographer and covered India in a prolific fashion. I have discussed his work in a previous Photo Focus, however, I am looking at anther photograph because his work has so much visual interest to share.

The photograph that I chose for this Photo Focus was taken in 1987 in Calcutta. Like all of Singh’s photographs this one is richly layered. In the foreground on the right side of the photograph is an arm with the hand resting on the window seal of a truck door. The window of the green door frames a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose, as well as, part of the truck. Just behind the door is a man bending over. Perhaps he is working on the truck? Beyond the truck in the middle ground, the left bottom half of the photograph is filled with pedestrians and a passing trolley car. Behind the trolley car, billboards and part of a building extend into the sky.

I am drawn to this particular photograph because of a compositional element Singh uses called a frame within a frame. The outer edges of the photograph provide what we call the picture frame. Within this frame, Singh has used the door window to frame another element in the photograph. In this case the statue. This framing device draws the viewer’s attention directly to the statue. The arm which is foremost in the photograph also helps direct the viewer’s attention towards the statue.

This leads the viewer to question why the statue is so important. As previously stated, the statue is of Subhas Chandra Bose. According to Encyclopedia Britannica online, Bose was born in 1897 and was the son of a prominent lawyer (, accessed: 10/18/2016). In his early adulthood he became active in the Independence movement and eventually joined Mahatma Gandhi (ibid). He was imprisoned or held in detention multiple times do to his ties with the freedom movement (ibid). In 1930, he was able to escape detention and fled the country and he eventually arrived in Germany (ibid). In 1943, a little more than a year after Japan invaded Southeast Asia, he went Southeast Asia where he took charge of the Indian Independence Movement in East Asia (ibid). It is believed that he died in a hospital in Taiwan in 1945, so two years before India’s independence. Thus, the statue is recognition to a man that dedicated his life to helping his country gain independence.

The photograph is a poignant reminder of how easily the past begins to fade away. While the triumph of independence is still strong in the 21st century, the details start to slip away. The photograph implies that the city buzzes around the statue and pays little attention to it. Through Singh’s use of a frame within a frame he reminds the viewer that it is important to remember one’s history and at times give pause to remember it.



By |2016-11-14T23:03:40-05:00October 28th, 2016|Photo Focus|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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