In 1948, after working at Hindustan Aeronautics, and then as a fill-in teacher and radio station newsreader, TS Satyan finally stumbled upon his dream job: staff photographer of the soon-to-be launched Bangalore-based English daily, Deccan Herald.
It was a spectacular feat for the 25-year-old Mysore native who had grown up obsessed with newspapers and magazines, dreaming of seeing his own photos in print. He would go on to become one of independent India’s earliest photojournalists.
For over 60 years, until his death at the age of 85 in 2009, Satyan photographed major political events and people, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and worked as a freelance photographer for international organisations such as the WHO and Unicef. He covered these key moments of history for publications such as the Illustrated Weekly of India, besides foreign magazines such as Time and Life.
But he also focused his lens on everyday life in India, recognising the beauty in ordinary scenes and ordinary people.
Recalling his life and work, Satyan once wrote about his approach to taking pictures:
My photography are slices of human life, gentle and personal. Their aim is to let the viewer see all by himself. They tend not to preach, not to pose as art. The pictures are not the result of encounters between events and me. They are a witness to interesting moments in time and in the lives of people I have met with. Photography has enabled me to save them from vanishing into thin air and to give them a life of their own.
Satyan’s family recently donated his vast archive of photographs, negatives, and writings to the Bengaluru-based Museum of Art & Photography, which said on September 27 that it would begin digitising and cataloguing the collection, making it available for free online. On its microsite dedicated to the legendary photographer, viewers can peruse a selection of Satyan’s stunning images, which capture the vast variety of life of India, featuring dancers and actors, as well as shopkeepers and schoolchildren.
For Satyan, it was “the prerogative of (the) camera to record the present as a reliable witness”, and his images do just that, bringing to life an era now long gone in India.
Here’s a selection of Satyan’s photographs, courtesy the Museum of Art & Photography:
This article first appeared on Quartz.