Raghubir Singh (1942–1999) was a pioneer of color street photography who worked and published prolifically from the late 1960s until his death in 1999 at age 56. Born into an aristocratic family in Rajasthan, he lived in Hong Kong, Paris, London, and New York—but his eye was perpetually drawn back to his native India. This retrospective exhibition at the Met Breuer situates Singh's photographic work at the intersection of Western modernism and traditional South Asian modes of picturing the world. It features 85 photographs by Singh in counterpoint with works by his contemporaries—friends, collaborators, fellow travelers—as well as examples of the Indian court painting styles that inspired him.
The exhibition traces the full trajectory of Singh's career from his early work as a photojournalist in the late 1960s through his last unpublished projects of the late 1990s. Using a handheld camera and color slide film, he recorded India's dense milieu in complex frieze-like compositions teeming with incident, fractured by reflections, and pulsating with opulent color. Singh embraced color as part of a continuous Indian aesthetic tradition that reaches back to the miniature paintings of the Mughal period. He was also deeply influenced by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson (whom he met in Jaipur in 1966), Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and American street photographers such as William Gedney and Lee Friedlander. As he traveled along his own artistic path, Singh forged a distinctively Indian style of modernist photography that stands, as he put it, "on the Ganges side of modernism."