A self-taught documentary photographer of Bengali cinema and theatre, Nemai Ghosh is widely remembered for his extensive documentation of the life and work of filmmaker Satyajit Ray. He never formally trained in photography and entered the profession after a chance encounter with Ray. He was visiting Burdwan in West Bengal, where the filmmaker was shooting for his first film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969), and took some photographs of the set on a second-hand camera. Impressed by these images, Ray asked him to join his team. From then on, he worked as a still photographer on all of Ray’s sets till his last film, Agantuk (1991). He also worked with other celebrated Bengali directors such as Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Aparna Sen over the course of his career.
Known for his black and white, analog images shot almost exclusively in natural light, Ghosh did not restrict his oeuvre to still photographs taken during filming, but also captured candid moments of the actors and set members in between shots. Some of his most memorable portraits feature prominent actresses from the time, including Sharmila Tagore, Jaya Bhaduri and Suchitra Sen. He considered Ray a mentor and was stylistically inspired by Ray’s filmmaking, particularly his use of natural light. He would also read the scripts of the films he photographed as preparation for his time on set. By 1992, when Ray passed away, he reportedly had close to 90,000 images of the director and his films, which he went on to publish across several books, including Satyajit Ray at 70 (1991), Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema (2005) and Manik-Da: Memoirs Of Satyajit Ray (2011).
Prior to photography, Ghosh also had a brief acting career in Bengali theatre in the 1950s and 1960s, as a member of actor Utpal Dutt’s Little Theatre Group. He later continued his association with theatre through stage photography. Some of his other publications include Dramatic Moments: Photographs and Memories of Calcutta Theatre (2000), Faces of Indian Art: Through the Lens of Nemai Ghosh (2007) – which includes photographs of artists such as Jamini Roy and Ramkinkar Baij – and Nemai Ghosh’s Kolkata (2014).
After a short break following the shock of Ray’s death, Ghosh resumed his photography with a series on the indigenous tribes of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh. His last project was focussed on photographing the Golden Temple in Amritsar. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2010.
Ghosh passed away on March 25, 2020 in Kolkata. His photographs are a part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.
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