The humble camera is now the artist's brush in India. Once dismissed as a mundane device to freeze dull official frames like weddings, births, gatherings and graduation ceremonies, the camera is now seen as an alternative genre of collector's art.
Photographers say the genre is booming because of its affordability and easy availability. A good photograph can be replicated into several editions, whereas a painting has one original edition and limited reprints, which rarely fetch buyers.
'People in India are now more aware of photography as an art form because internationally the medium has gained wide acceptance. The awareness is trickling down to our country.
'As a result, photographers, who have taken it up as a vocation here, are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. There is an assured return at the end of the day,' said photographer Ajay Rajgharia, the promoter of Wonderwall.co.in, the country's first website dedicated to fine art photography.
He is known for his series of 'Blue Photographs', street life and reality portraits of old doorjambs, doorknockers and arty walls in abandoned homes and shrines in towns across India.
According to Rajgharia, paintings have reached their peak. 'How many more paintings can people buy?'
In contrast, photography as a genre is still young with a lineage of just 150 years. Lensmen can work on a diverse body of subjects, giving viewers and buyers a gamut of choices, Rajgharia told IANS. He is curating a show with big names for Gallery Prakrit in Chennai.
Photographs are priced at 1/10th the price of paintings. A rough estimate puts the lowest limit at Rs.10,000 and the upper cap at Rs.200,000. The price range, says Rajgharia, generates a lot of interest prompting galleries to promote new photographers.
The capital on an average sees at least 50 shows a year, with an equal number in metros like Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata, besides international exhibitions.
According to Shalini Gupta of Tasveer, which hosts several shows round the year, the prices of photographs go down with every subsequent edition and reprint. But strangely, buyers snap up replicated prints.
Classical art photographer Aniruddha Mukherjee feels that photography as an art stands out because it captures 'time and space' and yet transcends both at the same time through abstract touches, play of light and intelligent studies in colour.
'There are very interesting things happening in photography in India. A group of photographers (Atul Bhalla for instance) are adding experimental layers to their photographs to make it more attractive to buyers as collectors' items. They are going beyond conventional photography,' Mukherjee said.
He will be showing his black and white photographs of life in Indian temple towns and their culture in a show titled 'Faces in the Ground Cloud' at the Alliance Francaise de Delhi June 25-29.
Mukherjee, a Delhi School of Art graduate and two-time national awards winner, is a portrait artist by training. 'The difference between a painter drawing portraits and a photographer capturing faces on his lens is that a painting takes more time and effort. A painter has to carry his kit - canvas, colours and brush, get the right light, right expression and either coax his subjects to sit through the session or copy the face from a photograph.
'And at the end of it, the price of all the hard labour becomes a bit too steep for an average buyer. In contrast, a good photographer can click a classical portrait faster and at an affordable price,' Mukherjee said.
Delhi-based photographer Tarun Das, who is known for his street life images, feels that photographs as works of art are easy to understand unlike contemporary and modern paintings, which are open to interpretations.
'Photographs is reality art which has depth and clarity. When you look at a photograph as a layman, it tells you everything. It is candid,' Das said.
'And yet one can innovate and change the meaning of a subject with artistic abstractions, especially in black and white frames which have an element of mystery.' He too will exhibit his works at the Alliance Francaise de Delhi this month.
Most Indian photographers, according to the trio, draw their inspiration from the West. 'Master photographers Henry Cartier Bresson, Ansel Easton Adams and Ralph Gibson have inspired generations of Indian photographers with their evolved frames,' Aniruddha Mukherjee said.
And nearer home, ace photojournalist Raghu Rai, fashion photographer Prabuddha Das Gupta, biographer Nemai Ghosh, cinematographer Subrata Mitra and master filmmaker Satyjait Ray have set the artistic trend for modern classical photographers.
'The camera has travelled a long way from where it was even 10 years ago,' Rajgharia said.