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SIMI SHOW MARKS FREEDOM IN INDIA; PHOTOGRAPHER SEES HUMAN CONNECTION.

Byline: Douglas Clark Daily News Staff Writer

Reports of bubonic plague in a rural province in India didn't stop Vijit Singh from traveling there two years ago with his camera.

``I wanted to get the facts,'' said Singh, a Simi Valley resident. ``I wanted to know these people,'' he said.

The photographic results of that journey and two others between 1988 and 1995 are on display at the Simi Valley Cultural Center. ``The Spirit of Freedom: Celebrating 50 years of Indian Democracy'' is an ode to Singh's former homeland and a plea to his adopted country.

``I want people to connect to what we share, even though we're from two different democracies and far different cultures,'' he said. ``People want the same things: family, friends, prayer. We can create understanding rather than barriers.''

Disease was the barrier Singh overcame to visit Ved Road in Surat, Gujarat, a northern rural area in India. In 1995, the international media stirred up a furor by reporting that the village had been devastated by the plague.

But after making inquiries with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Singh decided it was safe for him to enter the village. What he found was a simple community hampered by hygiene problems but brimming with life. He captures the exuberance in one photograph of children rushing toward his camera lens, like baby-faced moths seeking light.

``This was just to show life is very much present in this place,'' he said.

The hallmark of the exhibit's 22 color photographs is Singh's generous view of humanity. The photographs of children, desert dwellers, monks and shepherds are direct, uninflected portraits of the vibrant Indian culture.

``I wanted to document the way of life of people there,'' he said of his subjects, all of whom live in Northern India. ``These people are the strength of India. Their traditions are strong and alive.''

Born in Bombay, Singh, 44, has lived in Southern California for 20 years and in Simi Valley since 1992. He is a management analyst for the city's Department of Community Services.

Last year Singh decided he wanted to use his photographs to make an artistic statement. He chose the theme of freedom in honor of India's 50th year of independence, which was celebrated in August.

He chose the Cultural Arts Center for his exhibit because he wanted to share his avocation with his community.

``This is my country of adoption. Why not do something here?''

David Ralphe, general manager of the center, said he was struck by Singh's work because it reveals a culture far more diverse than the average westerner might assume.

``If it does nothing else than open the eye to the fact that India is a large, diverse culture, the show is a success. This is not stereotypical Indian photography,'' he said.

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2 Photos

Photo: (1-2--Color) An approach to prayer in India is shown in a photo, at right, taken by Vijit Singh, above.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 12, 1997
Words:491
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