A twentieth-century photojournalist known for transforming the use of photography in print media, Kishor Parekh had a strong personal investment in his work and an aesthetic that was simultaneously impactful and informative, often focusing on episodes of large-scale human suffering that occurred during his lifetime.
Parekh was born in Bhavnagar, Gujarat and studied cine-photography at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. While there, he won a photography contest held by Life magazine and was awarded an internship and an eight-page spread for a photo essay. He returned to India in 1961 and began working as chief photographer for Hindustan Times, New Delhi, where Parekh introduced the practice of crediting photographers in bylines, publishing photo essays and printing large images that spanned several columns. Parekh also insisted on publishing several images for individual articles, often spread over the entire page, despite skepticism from editors. He received positive feedback from the paper’s readers making his methods a standard practice at Hindustan Times. He also published photo essays in the paper, which were a great success and drastically increased the value of photographers at news agencies in India, notably inspiring S Paul to do the same at the Indian Express. He worked with 35 mm film cameras (preferring Nikon’s single reflex cameras), which were compact, had a ratio that was compatible with a wide array of lenses and allowed mobility in the field. This was part of the reason why much of Parekh’s photography has an immediacy and intimacy with his subject matter that was lacking in the more cautious, staged and distanced photographic practices such as assemblies, ribbon-cutting ceremonies and orchestrated photo ops that were standard in the first half of the twentieth-century and was done with the more unwieldy twin-lens reflex cameras.
Parekh went on to document the Sino-Indian war of 1962, the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, the Bihar famine of 1966–67 and the 1967 Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal. During this time he also took several candid portraits of Indian politicians, especially Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, sometimes getting close enough to spark annoyance. Parekh was the last to photograph Shastri before the latter’s death in 1965; the image of the late prime minister having a private conversation with former Pakistani President Ayub Khan became an iconic image of the peace talks in Tashkent and won him a gold medal from the magazine, Soviet Land. Nehru’s portraits, all taken by Parekh between 1961 and 1964, were exhibited a few days after his death in 1964.
Parekh took a hiatus from photojournalism between 1967–71 while he worked for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong, where he had relocated with his family. However, in December 1971, towards the end of the Bangladesh war, Parekh felt compelled to photograph the conflict and its aftermath. He flew to Calcutta (now Kolkata), from where he sought to board a military helicopter containing press photographers, bound for Dhaka. Although initially refused entry by the army major for not having press clearance, Parekh was eventually allowed to accompany them to Dhaka. During the shoot, he established a rapport with the Mukti Bahini (Bangladeshi guerilla fighters) and was allowed to enter the city and photograph the aftermath of the war, including the Pakistani army’s surrender. These images would come to form his most lauded photobook, Bangladesh: A Brutal Birth. The project initially took the form of a set of contact sheets and a dummy book, which Parekh then brought to the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who ordered 20,000 copies. The images of violence and displacement that constitute the book are extremely graphic and have become uniquely representative of the war due to the proximity of the camera and subject setting Parekh apart from other cameramen stationed in Dhaka at the time, allowing his documentation to feel like a true first-person account of the atrocities of the war. In the following decade, he focused on commercial photography and making photobooks.
Parekh captured momentary, impactful and unstaged images with a principled approach to the truthfulness of documentary photographs, influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White and Eugene Smith, whose work he had studied in detail at university. He also inspired many younger photographers, including his son Swapan Parekh, assistant Pablo Bartholomew and contemporaries S Paul and Raghu Rai. His work was published in various national and international periodicals such as the Time magazine, Stern and National Geographic. In the twenty-first century, Parekh’s work has been posthumously exhibited as part of 1971: The War We Forgot at Drik Gallery, Dhaka in 2000. Large scale prints from Bangladesh: A Brutal Birth were displayed at the Delhi Photo Festival; the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in 2015; and as part of the Chennai Photo Biennale in 2016.
Parekh suffered a heart attack and passed away in 1982, while working on a landscape photography project in Hemkunt, Uttarakhand.
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