50 Years Through the Lens It was the lack of appreciation for his other works of art, which prodded Jagdish Agarwal into the world of photography. “The amount of praise that I got for my first photograph which I took 50 years ago, was not something which I got when I wrote poetry or prose in school and college,” he says.
One of the most eminent photographers in the country, Agarwal is reckoned as the father of stock photography in India. In 1987, he started India’s first photo library, Dinodia, meaning somebody who belongs from Dinod, Agarwal’s hometown in Haryana. After looking over his family business for about 20 years, Agarwal started his photo library in Mumbai. “When I started stock photography, people would say kaunsa stock hai ye (which stock is this)? They had never heard of a stock photo library before,” recalls Agarwal.
In the initial years, it was quite challenging to get things going as people would not trust him with their photographs. “Photographers were used to people taking their work without paying them or returning it to them. But we started paying photographers every month. It is then that people realised there is money in this,” he states. Over the years, Dinodia has enabled several photographers to sell their work to clients all across the globe. The advent of the digital and internet age has brought both opportunities and challenges for the country’s first photo library.
While search aggregators like Google have increased competition, Agarwal says, “It works both ways.” The internet has also enabled Dinodia to reach clients in different parts of the world. Earlier clients from different countries had to come to Mumbai to select the photographs that they desired from Agarwal’s collection. But now, he says that they need not come. “In the beginning my reach was limited. Now thousands of people come to my website every day. It opens up new avenues,” adds Agarwal.
Apart from managing Dinodia, Agarwal himself has been a prolific photographer. In the words of Palashranjan Bhaumick, photo editor at Business India magazine, who has known Agarwal for 35 years, he is the “historian of this art”. According to Bhaumick, “Jagdish Agarwal is a lover of photography.” Referring to his first photograph which he took in 1965, Agarwal adds, “I cannot claim that I was a photographer at that time. But when I took it, my subconscious eye saw the difference between two trees, one with leaves and one without which I captured in the frame.”
According to him, it is this “eye” which a person cannot be taught; he or she is born with it. While admiring Agarwal’s work, the first thing that dawns on the observer is that all his photographs, from 1965 to 2016, are in black and white. When asked about it, he quietly says, “When I started there was no colour film and that turned out to be good for me.” It is because of this very fact that he has been able to preserve the photograph which he took way back in 1965. “This is so because whatever you do, colour fades,” he explains. Even though technology has come a long way since then, he continues to shoot black and white.
Also he adds, “Whenever I sell my pictures for interiors, such as homes and offices, designers tell me that black and white photographs can go with any colour scheme.” Talking to him, one can easily sense the passion that Agarwal has for the art which he has been practising for about half a century. According to him, “Every form of art gives you pleasure. The difference only depends on your appreciation.” He recounts a conversation which he had with a painter whose work he did not appreciate. The painter replied that he didn’t want everyone to like his work. He had made that painting because he believed in it and if he got one buyer, he would be happy.
Stating this, Agarwal says, “An artist always creates for himself. When I take a picture, I don’t think who will buy it. I create because it fascinated me.” This is also what he says to budding photographers. “One must always do a profession which excites him. An artist doesn’t live on money. He or she lives on appreciation and praise.” His philosophy resonates with the reason why he took up photography. The hunger for appreciation which drove him into the profession has made Jagdish Agarwal what he is today. –by Tushar Chakrabarty.