K G Maheshwari
The following is from our interview with the legendary K G Maheshwari, conducted in October 2010. He passed away on 4 December 2014, at the age of 92 years.
Renowned pictorialist K G Maheshwari has dedicated almost seven decades of his life to the art of photography. In a conversation with Neha Mutreja, he reveals the facts about his journey so far.
Krishna Gopal Maheshwari could not sing, and so he took up photography. He reminisces, “my father wanted me and my brothers to learn singing, so a teacher was called to train us. After the audition, he promptly declared that I had absolutely no talent for it.” He was only 15 years old then. But this incident, far from disappointing him, spurred him towards discovering, practicing and excelling in some form of art. It was a completely new beginning, one in which he discovered an eternal love for photography.
During those days, he was inspired by Illustrated Weekly, a famous magazine that had a page dedicated to photography. He soon began devouring anything he could find on the subject, in other newspapers, magazines and second-hand books. Such was his interest in his teenage years, that he began to save all his pocket money to buy his very first camera.
A Thirst For Good Pictures
Armed with Rs. 3, a young Maheshwari purchased a camera from a shop in Mumbai. Soon thereafter, school lunch breaks found him clicking away at Girgaum Chowpatty. “The initial results were not at all satisfactory. I wondered if the camera was defective. Of course, I was still learning. But after a while, I found myself yearning for more control,” he reminisces.
Around the same time, a visiting cousin lent his Rolleiflex to Maheshwari, when he learnt of his fondness for the subject. “I immediately fell in love with it. I was able to get the results I longed to see. It gave me my very first award-winning photograph. I was exhilarated. It made me much more serious about my pursuit.”
In Search of Subjects
“I think photography makes you more aware of yourself,” he says. “As I grew older, I realised I was extremely shy. I spent hours everyday reading and practicing at home. I enjoyed the fact that it did not require anyone else’s involvement. For my subjects, I turned to my family and friends, with whom I was most comfortable with. Whenever they gathered together, I would read their faces and search for interesting expressions. Then I would convince them to pose for me.”
During the family’s summer visits to Mussoorie, a hill station situated in the foothills of the Himalayan range, Maheshwari found his subjects in the local people. He relied on his household help to convince people to pose for him. If they asked for money, Maheshwari would give them some. To him, an interesting subject was priceless.
A Split in the Road
While photography was his primary passion, K G Maheshwari dedicated a significant part of his life to set up a business in cotton ginning and pressing. He still practiced photography everyday.
“In order to divert my mind from the stresses of my daily routines, I started a darkroom at home and made photograms. Each image required visualisation and understanding of exposure.” Since he was bad at drawing, he took the help of an assistant who drew for him. These drafts are still preserved and kept at his home, with the exposure and placement of each layer meticulously noted. “Through all of this, a strange thing happened. I began employing the things I learnt through photography in my business. I started solving problems at work by eliminating unwanted details, just like I would when I composed a frame. I planned like I would for a photogram. Photography has been a wonderful teacher all through.”
Exploring New Avenues
Over time, Maheshwari photographed landscapes, wildlife and still-life subjects. Whichever genre he explored, he observed his subjects in great detail and thought of capturing them differently. “I started collecting antiques and showpieces from my travels. Whether it was ballet dolls or wine glasses, everything and everyone in my house has been my subject at some point or the other,” he explains.
The People Behind His Success
Maheshwari attributes his success to many people in his life. He was close to people like the Late Jehangir Unwalla, a doyen of Indian photography. Jehangir introduced him to tabletop photography and to the concept of photograms. The Late Burjor Fanibunda, from the Photographic Society of India taught him darkroom techniques.
But his biggest support came from his wife, Shantidevi. He credits her with keeping his interest alive. “Like eyes are to a portrait, my wife is to my photography.”
Recognition, Awards and Accolades
K G Maheshwari’s photographs are not just strong in composition, they also show his intimate understanding of his subjects and of light. Initially known for his prowess in portraiture, his explorations in other genres are being recognised as serious works of art.
Over the years, he has won numerous medals and citations. To spread what he has learnt through a lifetime of photography, he has also conducted numerous workshops and seminars. He would be sure to impress upon his students that… “Originality of approach, keen perception, deeper feelings and good craftsmanship are the key to producing very good results.”
Now, at the age of 88, he continues to look for subjects to shoot. If you draw him into conversation, you will notice that he is also keenly studying you, your gestures and expressions! This is the hallmark of a true master.Tags: Great Master, K G Maheshwari, Neha Mutreja, October 2010, Pictorialist