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The Centre for Photography as an Art Form (CPA) was established as a non-profit body at the NCPA in 1987 with the help of a generous grant of $75,000 from the Ford Foundation and the guidance of NCPA's founding father Jamshed Bhabha and Jehangir C. Jehangir. The Piramal Gallery was then established as a part of the CPA by another grant from Dilip Piramal. With an aim to promote and develop the practice and understanding of photography as an art form, both the CPA and the Piramal Gallery are involved in a range of activities that include exhibitions, workshops, documentation and archiving.


To give photographers, both emerging and established, a platform to display their works is one of the prime mandates of the Piramal Gallery. The gallery's inaugural exhibition in 1988, Through Indian Eyes, showcased photographs taken across India, from the 1850s to the 1920s, that were collected by American photo-historian Judith Mara Gutman. She later donated the exhibits to the NCPA's archives, thus also beginning its permanent collection.

Since then, the Piramal Gallery has hosted over 500 exhibitions under the leadership of Praful C. Patel who was the first head of the gallery, and then Mukesh Parpiani who has taken over since 2009. The indoor gallery, spread over an area of 1,600 sq. ft. (149 sq. m), allows for over 150 ft (46 m) of display space for exhibits and can comfortably host over 125 standees at a single time. Modular in nature, it can also be divided into smaller sections. An adjoining open-air terrace provides additional space for refreshments and informal discussions.

Prominent exhibitions from the past have included a retrospective on Masters of Indian Photography, which showcased the works of 80 photographers from the NCPA's archives covering portraiture, politics, landscapes and street photography. Alongside the frames, the gallery also displayed a collection of vintage cameras and set up a dummy darkroom. Other exhibitions have included works by visually impaired photographers; press photographers; works on festivals such as the Kumbh Mela; fine art and abstract photography; wildlife photography; a tribute to India's classical musicians and more. On one occasion, the Piramal Gallery had also recreated a historical photo studio, complete with vintage backdrops, costumes and props. Visitors went from being mere viewers to becoming the subjects of images, and this allowed them to engage with the medium in a very different manner.

Apart from exhibitions of individual photographers, the gallery also hosts group shows, including those of recent graduates from photography institutes across the country; shows by bodies such as the Photo Division of the Government of India; exhibits by key players in the photography industry such as Kodak and Nikon; as well as travelling exhibitions by embassies of different countries. Also, while photography remains the key focus point, the gallery occasionally holds exhibitions of other art forms such as sculpture, cartooning and numismatics.

To help spread the word about events and exhibitions at the gallery, the CPA reaches out to other cultural institutions in the city. It has its own mailing list which is regularly updated and the events are also frequently featured in newspapers and websites.


Along with exhibitions, the Piramal Gallery also hosts a number of workshops and talks each year. Recent ones have helped participants understand and try their hands at a variety of photographic genres including astro photography, macro photography, infrared photography, corporate portraiture, drone photography, action photography, kite photography, photo journalism and others; and also at vintage photographic processes such as glass-print negatives. The workshops and talks are open to all; most of them are free of cost, as part of the CPA's endeavour to create a resource for emerging photographers and photo-enthusiasts.

At a couple of dance photography workshops held in the past, participants learnt how to capture the movements, grace and expressions of the performers in different Indian and Western dance forms, with the many indoor and outdoor spaces of the NCPA providing varied photographic settings. The CPA and Piramal Gallery also conduct Summer Fiesta photography workshops for school children, to introduce the younger generation to the many joys of the medium.

Documentation and Archives

Another important mandate of the CPA is to actively document the many programmes hosted by the NCPA each year. These include regular performances across the genres of theatre, music and dance as well as the concerts of the Symphony Orchestra of India. The CPA's photographers thoroughly document each event and a selection of images from therein are stored in the permanent archives of the NCPA as well as made available for internal publications, media outreach and other activities.

A core part of the CPA's photographic archives consists of prints donated by the many photographers who have exhibited their works and collections at the Piramal Gallery. Numbering in the hundreds, the archives span a variety of photographic subjects and styles; and include the works of Ashvin Mehta, Homai Vyarawalla, Jagan Mehta, Jyoti Bhatt, Raghubir Singh, Raja Deen Dayal, Tarapada Banerjee, T.S. Satyan, T.S. Nagarajan, Vasant Nayak and many other prominent names. The prints are stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room and are occasionally displayed in exhibitions at the Piramal Gallery. With prior appointment, the archives are also made available to photo researchers and scholars for their study.

The CPA also strives to be a resource centre for photographers and has amassed a large collection of photography books over the years. Spread across genres, the collection is made available for visitors to browse through in conjunction with ongoing exhibitions at the Piramal Gallery.

Looking Forward

A proposed expansion to the NCPA promises to increase the space available for the CPA with a larger gallery, dedicated studios and a library. Meanwhile, in the coming years, the CPA and the Piramal Gallery will continue to work towards the promotion of photography, both as an integral division of the NCPA that documents and showcases the NCPA's many events, and also as a dynamic entity in itself with an ever-growing list of activities for the larger photography community.

Caption: Judith Mara Gutman, a world-renowned photo historian and curator, at the inauguration of the exhibition Through Indian Eyes at the Piramal Gallery in 1988.

Caption: A panoramic view of the CPA and Piramal Gallery, by expert photographer Sameer Shah.

Caption: Children learn skills related to portraiture, angle, composition and light with live models at a Summer Fiesta workshop conducted by P.K.M. Pillai in December 2010.

Caption: A Dance Photography workshop, conducted by the CPA in April 2014 that guided enthusiasts in the intricacies of capturing movement on still film.

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Author:Bhatia, Kunal
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Date:Mar 1, 2019

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