Reviewed by: In-street member Saumalya Ghosh
Wow— From where should I start? I am having a mixed feeling holding this masterpiece. I would say that “Our Kolkata” by Jayanta Saha is the book that I’m waiting to see, touch, hold and feel for last 7 years — it is a book that brings me extreme joy, satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment.
Sure I have seen many of these photos by Jayanta Saha before, but to see them in a physical manifestation is a different experience. I always wanted the extraordinary journey of this unpretentious lens man Jayanta Saha over a period of 50 years, to be well preserved – and a book was really needed. Finally, “Our Kolkata” through the eyes of a master is now available to everybody. And I am happy to be a proud owner of one copy of “Our Kolkata”.
“Our Kolkata” is much more than a coffee table book. For purely historical purposes, I recommend everyone including non-photographers to pick up a copy of “Our Kolkata.”
And for photographers this is gem of a work to look at. I’m sure it will inspire many photographers across all genres, especially documentary and street photographers. And if you love to document the ‘City of Joy’, if you love to capture the City filled with surprises and emotions, if you are a Street photographer from Kolkata, then I would say this is a book you must consider looking at.
My history with Mr. Jayanta Saha
It was back in 2011, when I attended a Street Photography workshop conducted by Mr. Saha. When I saw his work I was simply blown away by the impact of his images. I was simply overwhelmed by the ‘moments’ he captured. I was touched by the expressions and sheer emotions delivered by his imagery.
Mr. Saha is a simple and unassuming person. As far as I know him, he is a perfectionist with a unique story telling capability and he has tremendous passion for his work.
My introduction with “Our Kolkata”
When I first heard about the print of “Our Kolkata” — I was really excited. I wanted to see the photographs in the book (as I already have seen most of them)— but one of the biggest reasons I ordered the book was for the vanity of actually owning the book. And I was very curious to see how the book looked, felt, and how the photos were arranged in the book.
I pre-ordered the book. When I went to collect the book, I found that Mr. Saha was present at that location. I used the opportunity to take his autograph on the book.
My First Impression
I came back home with utter joy and pride. I immediately started to look through “Our Kolkata” and was blown away with the quality of the printing. The paper is nice and thick, has a durable coating to protect the prints, and the prints of the photographs are of top quality. There is a phenomenal tonality in the prints— you can see an amazing gradation between the white/grey/black in the prints. There is still detail in the blacks of the photos, and there are no whites that are totally blown out either. Not only that, the clarity of the images is superb, and I really felt the presence of the images.
That day I literally felt like I was holding my city ‘Our Kolkata’ in my hands – as if I was feeling the pulse of my city. A city that I love, I feel and I photograph. The book was also a piece of history — which transported me into the past.
I went through the entire book cover-to-cover from the soothing light of my room in the evening — and it put me in a mellow and reflective mood. I lived with the images that evening, and went to sleep with an inner-sense of calm.
Preface text of “Our Kolkata”
“Jayanta Saha literally lives and breathes photography. […] His Calcutta to Kolkata is more than a coffee table book. It looks like an absorbing text of a city in transition chronicling the changes over a period of nearly fifty years.”
—Subrata Roy Chowdhury
Preface text by Mr. Subrata Roy Chowdhury.
The Back Cover of “Our Kolkata”
The back cover of the book has the only color picture taken by Mr. Saha. It has a beautiful and classic look. I could almost imagine cutting out the cover and framing it just as a print.
The dimensions of “Our Kolkata”
I liked the size of the book. It is not too big to hold in two hands and not too small to feel the presence of the images.
The book comprised of 112 pages, 99 images accompanied by a very high standard of printing from one of the leading press Pragati Offset, Hyderabad, India.
Layout and Sequencing of “Our Kolkata”
The layout and sequencing of the book is as follows:
The book starts with the preface text by Mr. Subrata Roy Chowdhury, which is followed by the sequence of pictures, and finally the Index section that contains the captions of the images along with time and place of the photographs captured.
In terms of the templates in the layout, I like the following aspects:
1. There is no double-pages image as double-pages image is very distracting to look at.
2. Only one single image is there on a page. It helps to give equal importance to all the images.
3. There is enough blank space surrounding each and every image.
The layout of the book is simple and elegant— and it works.
Titles for “Our Kolkata”
Another thing I found fascinating about “Our Kolkata” is that all the titles and associated texts are given at the end of the book in the Index section, not beside the images.
I liked this idea as it puts the pictures first. It gives viewers time and space to concentrate on the images, to deep dive into them before reading the context.
My personal review of “Our Kolkata”
Here in this article I will try my best to outline some of the timeless lessons Street and Documentary photographers can learn from this book. And above all I’ll try to elaborate why I am saying this is a book you MUST not miss out.
1. It is an absorbing text of a City in transition
For purely historical purposes, I highly recommend every street / documentary photographer and even the non-photographers to pick up a copy of “Our Kolkata”. Not only that, as a physical object — it is beautiful.
I’m sure most of the people who have not seen his work, will enjoy looking at the journey of a City from Calcutta to Kolkata through his eyes.
Some others who have seen his work may ask: “If I have already seen Mr. Saha’s photographs, is it worth it to get the book?”
I would still say a resounding yes. The reason is that I don’t think photography is purely about seeing an image as a visual form. I think photography is also about looking at a photograph in different ways— and experiencing the photograph in different ways.
For example, I have seen Mr. Saha’s work in slide show, in exhibitions, and now in a book — and the emotional response I get from the images always changes. I experience a photograph differently when I hold it and see it in a book, from when I see it in an electronic medium.
I would say the experience of holding a physical book, smelling the pages, flipping through it, bookmarking it, highlighting certain pages— is something you can’t replicate digitally.
2. It is an Experience of a City with Soul
“You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal; go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer; Bangalore’s your place. But if you want a city with a soul: come to Calcutta.” – Vir Sanghvi
Every morning the city of joy – Kolkata, sets all its dwellers on a frenzy ride with the daily festival of human existence. With all its exquisite charm and incomparable antiquity, Kolkata does its best to spoil you.
This is indeed a city where the classicality of its people’s revolutionary temperaments is no less than the heritage of its monuments and buildings. Calcutta is not a city; it’s more like a religion which has to be experienced!
People who want to experience the City with Heart and Soul, should get this book, “Our Kolkata”.
The book embraces you and leaves you with a bit of Kolkata in your heart.
3. It tells stories of City dwellers
I always wonder the way Mr. Saha listens to the day to day life story of the city dwellers in such an empathetic manner. His work shows how attentive he always is to every situation. I can almost hear and understand the voices when I see the evening stroll of senior citizens image where two of them are talking to each other about a new Panjabi. The closed gate in the background so aptly used as a metaphor here that it adds another dimension to the story.
4. It challenges the documentary tradition
Many a times people perceive documentary photography as something transparent and not to be influenced by the thoughts, emotions, or viewpoint of the photographer. However, Mr. Saha has always challenged this conception in his work. He always tried to capture raw human emotion and expression in his documentary work which gives ‘life’ to his pictures.
I like how his documentary work is influenced by thoughts when I see an aged traffic guard is controlling traffic where as young policemen are taking rest. Such an irony Mr. Saha injects in his work.
5. It challenges the aesthetic of photography, and emphasizes feeling
Traditionally in many cases, clean, well-exposed, and sharp photographs have championed when aesthetic of photography is considered. Technical perfection has been considered as king. Not only did Mr. Saha challenge how he approached documentary photography and the aesthetic that he employed– but also he created images with an emphasis on feeling above all else.
6. It emphasizes on the importance of geometry and composition
For Mr. Saha, Street Photography is a perfect blend of Content, Form and Timing. It is a timeless lesson for the Street photographers the way the master craftsman has employed Content, Form and Timing in his work.
7. It emphasizes on the ‘Art of Seeing’
Mr. Saha is a keen observer. Every aspiring Street Photographers should try to learn from his work, why the ‘Art of Seeing’ is so important especially in street photography and how it can enhance the impact of an image. His ‘Horse Power’ image is such a classic example of metaphorical juxtaposition.
Here in this article I have tried to highlight some the the key aspects of “Our Kolkata” and some of the lessons “Our Kolkata” can teach us. In-conclusion, this is a book you really CANNOT miss out — it is worth every Rupee. I highly recommend every street / documentary photographer and even the non-photographers to pick up a copy of “Our Kolkata”.
If you want to download the Review, Click Here. “Our Kolkata” – Book Review