Rajan Devadas (b. 1921, d. 2014)
A photojournalist and documentary photographer, Rajan Devadas is renowned for documenting historical and political events, with a focus on depicting American-Indian relations as well as the lifestyles and traditions of people across India.
Devadas was born and raised in Thiruvananthapuram and did his schooling from Madras (now Chennai). He later enrolled at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where he was actively involved in social services and welfare. In 1955, Devadas moved to the US after receiving a fellowship for social studies from the Pendle Hill Quaker Center, Pennsylvania, and in 1957, joined the University of Pennsylvania to study sociology. His final educational endeavour took him to the New School for Social Research, New York, where he studied public relations and photojournalism, aided by a Rothschild Foundation grant. Here, he studied under the tutelage of photographer Berenice Abbott and developed a friendship with photographer Imogen Cunningham, which helped him develop a concept of art in photography beyond that of pure documentation.
Following his time at the New School, Devadas began working as the official photographer for the Embassy of India in Washington for several decades, documenting US–India diplomatic relations, including photographs of visiting dignitaries from both countries. Over the course of his career, Devadas photographed countless political figures, from John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Maragret Thatcher, to Indian prime ministers such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Manmohan Singh, as well as religious figures such as Pope John Paul, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa. Braj Kumar Nehru, the Indian Ambassador to the US from 1961–68, sponsored Devadas’s first solo show in Washington, which opened to high praise for his artistry and depictions of the human condition. His work was subsequently shown across the US and Canada.
Devadas was invited by the Indian government to photograph the country, which resulted in a number of images taken over a decade that were later exhibited in one of his most notable exhibitions, Glimpses of India. These images reflect Devadas’s “pursuit of beauty” in the panorama of colours and diverse populations he documented. Devadas’s work was also included in the Life in Asia (1993) exhibition at Gallery Lafayette, Washington.
Devadas’s journalistic works have been featured in several notable publications, including the Economic Times, the Hindustan Times, The New York Times and Reuters. He has also been the recipient of several honours, most notably the Padma Shri award in 2002.
Devadas was married to Kimiko Devadas, with whom he had two daughters and six sons. He died in 2014 at Rockville, Maryland, aged ninety-three.
Anand, Tania. 1996. “Glimpses of India: India Revisited Through The Lens Of Rajan Devadas.” India Worldwide, October 30.
Bhatnagar, Sanjay. 1993. “Ode to India.” India News, November 15, 1993.
India News. 1993. “‘Life in Asia’ – Photo Exhibition,” November 1, 1993.
“Indian-American Photojournalist Rajan Devadas Dies in US.” 2014. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/working-abroad/indian-american-photojournalist-rajan-devadas-dies-in-us/articleshow/45668081.cms.
Kamath, M. V. 1998. The United States And India, 1776–1976: the Bridge Over the River Time. New Delhi: Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
“Rajan Devadas.” 2014. The Washington Post. https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=rajan-devadas&pid=173685779.