A photojournalist and documentary photographer, Prashant Panjiar is known for his coverage of social and cultural issues across India. Apart from several news agencies, he has also collaborated with social welfare organisations in the areas of public health, disaster relief and education over the course of his career and published several photo books of his work. As a curator, Panjiar has also worked with multiple art festivals in the country, organising and overseeing photography exhibitions.
Panjiar was born in Kolkata, West Bengal. He received an MA in Political Science from Pune University in 1981, but had been interested in photography since the mid-1970s. In particular, he was inspired by the rising prominence of photojournalism in India during his early life, and its crucial importance during the Emergency. He moved to New Delhi in 1981, and began working as a photographer for the Patriot newspaper in 1984. That same year, he documented the unrest and anti-Sikh violence that followed former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. He joined India Today in 1986, where he held a senior position in the photography department under Raghu Rai for nine years. He then began work as an associate editor for Outlook magazine when it launched in 1995, and later became its deputy editor. He left Outlook in 2001 and has since operated as an independent photographer and curator.
Much of Panjiar’s photographic work has been focused on issues of social welfare. On an assignment for Indian Express in 2002, Panjiar photographed the Hindu and Muslim communities living on either side of a wall in the Shapur area of Ahmedabad, Gujarat; from 2004 onwards, he has photographed a variety of public health drives by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania; also since 2004, he has covered social upliftment projects by the American India Foundation; on an assignment for Time magazine in 2008, Panjiar documented the destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar; in 2010, on an assignment for Tehelka magazine, he documented the aftermath of farmer suicides in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra; in 2011 and 2014, he covered programs by Alliance India which supported communities that were vulnerable to HIV/AIDS; in 2012, he covered the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s work in India and Sri Lanka; 2015 he documented the family planning drive in India and Nepal undertaken by the United Nations Population Fund (which is still referred to by its old abbreviation, UNFPA); and in 2016, he covered the sanitation and water filtration programs by Kohler Stewardship in India.
Many of Panjiar’s photobooks and exhibitions were the result of the collaborations listed above, while others were done as independent projects. In 1984, he published Malkhan – The Story of a Bandit King (which he financed himself), and The Survivors – Kampuchea, photographs from which were part of his solo show Kampuchea Lives Again exhibited in New Delhi and Kolkata. His more recent books include The Ranas of Nepal (2002); India: The Definitive Images (2004); King, Commoner, Citizen (2007) that included photographs from his shows Kings & Commoners (2000) and King, Commoner, Citizen (2007) in New Delhi and Tokyo; Aids Sutra (2008); and Pan India — A Shared Habitat (2009) which was accompanied by a travelling exhibition of the same title across different Indian cities between 2009 and 2010. His ongoing projects include Indianisms, a square format series begun in 2010 that chronicles scenes particular to everyday Indian life, and Amongst the Believers – The Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, for which he has documented every Kumbh Mela event at Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad) since 2001.
Panjiar has also worked extensively as a curator and festival organiser. In this capacity, he is best known for founding and co-directing the Delhi Photo Festival (2011-15) and the Nazar Foundation, which published monographs, notably Home Street Home (2013) and Kanu’s Gandhi (2015). He also co-founded the Sensorium festival at Sunaparanta, Goa in 2014 and Goa Open Arts in 2019. Panjiar was the curator for photography at the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Serendipity Arts Festival. Other notable curatorial projects include the Star TV photography collection in 2015 and Transforming Lives — 15 Years of American India Foundation at New Delhi in 2017. Panjiar was part of the general jury for the World Press Photo awards in 2002, and the pre-jury in 2016. His book, That Which is Unseen, was published in 2021 and compiles images from his decades-long career as a photojournalist with written meditations on the various assignments he undertook. As a senior practitioner, he is actively involved with mentorship programs and arts organisations that offer platforms to emerging photographers.
As of writing, the artist lives and works in Goa.
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