Nandita Raman (b. 1980)
Primarily a lens-based artist, Nandita Raman engages with themes such as memories, geography and socio-economic realities. She was born in Varanasi (formerly Banares) and has a diploma in Communication Design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi, a Bachelor of Arts from Delhi University and an MFA in Advanced Photography from the Bard College-International Center for Photography (ICP), New York.
Emblematic of Raman’s vision to bring class inequalities to the fore, her principal series, Cinema Play House (2006–09), explores the conditions of defunct single-screen theatres across India – one of which her mother’s family used to own in Varanasi. These abandoned sites tell the story of a cinema-viewing culture swallowed up in many parts of the country by the advent of multiplexes. Her intention wasn’t to only document these spaces; through them she wonders why our consumption should be based merely on replacing the old with the new. Her photographs are nostalgic and they also question why such sites are reduced to a commodity when they are places of employment that people’s livelihoods depend upon.
Raman had also photographed many single-screen theatres in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and for her series Film Studios (2014), she returned to the city to photograph the obsolete machinery used in filmmaking. The equipment she captures is out-moded and gathering dust, yet they’re evidence of past cinematic techniques used in Kolkata studios between the 1950s and 70s. “Manik-da’s Camera” from this series depicts three cameras suspended in a dream-like haze; Manik-da was the fond moniker used for Satyajit Ray. The image-multiplier filter in this camera model was used to film dream sequences in his films. By using the same filter for this photograph, Raman creates a connection between India’s cinema history and the present and in a way, resurrects a technique of a bygone age instead of documenting only a memory of it. Additionally, her images of Technician’s Studio are reminders that it was here that the sound for films like Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) and Ritwik Ghatak’s Kato Ajanare (1959), was added.
Raman’s first solo show, Do Not Forget Me (2018), featured works from both Cinema Play House and Film Studios. The exhibition’s title was a reference to a short story from Alexander Kluge’s book Cinema Stories.
Raman has felt drawn to her hometown Varanasi and she has looked at it’s socio-cultural histories and realities closely in her work. In 2016, the Documentary Photography Grant from The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts enabled her to produce her series, Letters to Alice, Bill and Allen. Combining photography, video and text, the work was based on the journals written in Varanasi by Swiss artist Alice Boner, American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and American photographer William Gedney in the 1960s. Body is a Situation (2020–) deals with her relationship to Varanasi: her return as a visitor from New York and as a woman in a site brimming with female deities while flesh and blood women are starkly absent in public spaces.
Raman has been featured in Marg magazine, The Sunday Guardian, The Tribune and The British Journal of Photography, among others. She is the recipient of several grants and awards including SARAI independent fellowship for photographing cinema halls (2006); Director’s Fellowship (2010–11), ICP and the Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Project Prize (2010). She attended a residency program at Baxter St, Camera Club of New York in 2017. She’s shown at the Centre for Documentary Studies, Duke University; Museum of Moving Images, Queens and sepiaEYE, New York, amongst others. Her work is a part of several collections, including those of George Eastman Museum, New York and Snite Museum of Art, Indiana.
At the time of writing, Raman lives and works in Queens, New York.
Batish, Ashima Sehjpal. “Straight road to a warped world”. The Tribune, 2018.https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/archive/arts/straight-road-to-a-warped-world-597457
Berner, Adam Ethan. “sepiaEYE Gallery Review: Nandita Raman’s Do Not Forget Me”. Musée: Vanguard of Photography Culture, 2018https://museemagazine.com/culture/2018/10/17/sepiaeye-gallery-review-nandita-ramans-do-not-forget-me
Museum of the Moving Image. “"Cinema Play House”. Accessed May 03, 2021. http://www.movingimage.us/exhibitions/2018/09/15/detail/cinema-play-house/
sepiaEYE. “Do Not Forget Me”. Accessed May 03, 2021.https://www.sepiaeye.com/nandita-raman-do-not-forget-me
Saffron Art. “Bharat Sikka”. Accessed May 04, 2021.https://www.saffronart.com/auctions/PostWork.aspx?l=27642
The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts. “Artist Statement – Letters to Alice, Bill and Allen”. Accessed May 04, 2021.https://alkazifoundation.org/documentary-photography-grant/