Ram Rahman (b. 1955)
A photographer, curator, and activist, Ram Rahman is primarily known for his photographs that document post-Nehruvian India. He has photographed relics of architectural modernism in the country, scenes from streets, political demonstrations and portraits. Alongside photography, he has also been a writer and curator and has contributed to the discourse on the state of photographic practice in India.
Rahman was born to the pre-eminent modernist architect Habib Rahman and the classical dance exponent Indrani Rahman. He received his education from Modern School, Delhi, after which he did his undergraduate studies in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). From 1977 onwards, Rahman began to exhibit his work in the USA, in both group and solo exhibitions. In 1979 he also received a degree in graphic design from Yale University.
Rahman’s work is marked by an archival impulse to document, with a keen eye towards details, idiosyncrasies and contradictions that capture the social fabric of the country.
Having led a remarkably exceptional life, through both his and his parents’ social milieu, many of his photographs document the circle of architects, artists, dancers, social activists and politicians he encountered as a young child. His oeuvre ranges from portraits of luminaries such as MF Husain, Bhupen Khakhar, Raghubir Singh and Paramjit Singh, to grave upheavals such as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi to scenes from fairs, festivals, tea-shops, wrestling clubs and so on. These photographs meld the composure and formal attention of art photography with a documentary style. Thus, they fuse the personal with the public and fine arts with popular culture and capture with a sense of humour and irony, the contradictions between these polar opposite sensibilities.
In addition to his own artistic practice, Rahman has curated and designed exhibitions and maintains an archive. Rahman has curated shows such as Sunil Janah Vintage Photographs at the NGMA, Mumbai, 2015; Delhi Modern: The Architectural Photographs of Madan Mahatta at Photoink, Delhi, 2012; Heat – Moving Pictures Visions, Phantasms and Nightmares at Bose Pacia, New York, 2003, among others. Rahman manages the Habib Rahman Archives, which holds documentation of his father’s practice as an architect as well as his photographs.
Rahman is one of the founding members of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) in New Delhi. Formed during the aftermath of the political murder of theatre activist and playwright Safdar Hashmi in 1989, the trust promotes cultural action, artistic freedom and secularism. Besides showcasing art exhibitions, it conducts symposiums on history, culture and human rights, and publishes books in Hindi, English and Urdu.
At the time of writing, Rahman lives and works in New Delhi.
Blaney, Aileen and Chinar Shah. Photography in India: From Archives to Contemporary Practice. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Bhuyan, Avantika. ‘What is the future of heritage conservation?’ Mint Lounge, February 02, 2021.
Chattopadhyay, Pallavi. ‘Ghosts of a City: Exhibition reveals a nostalgic side of Delhi.’ The Indian Express, November 1, 2019.
Muhlenkamp, Katherine. Raised Voices. The University of Chicago Magazine, 2013.
MOSS, Jessica, and Ram RAHMAN. 2013. The Sahmat Collective: Art and Activism in India since 1989. Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago
Nagy, Peter. Bioscope: Scenes from an Eventful Life: Ram Rahman. Singapore: Bodhi Art, 2008.
Rahman, Ram. 2007. A Sharper Focus. Shifting Canvas: A symposium on the contemporary art scene in India https://www.india-seminar.com/2007/578/578_ram_rahman.htm
Sorabjee, Deepika. Shooting from the Margins. LiveMint, November 23, 2009.
Singh, Jujhar. Art Talk Interview with Ram Rahman.