World Photography Day: Bengaluru museum pays tribute to Indian photojournalist TS Satyan on centenary birth year

The ongoing exhibition of Mysuru-born photojournalist TS Satyan at MAP highlights how he added an element of surprise to all his images.

ByShailaja Tripathi

Published Aug 19, 2023 | 8:00 AMUpdatedAug 19, 2023 | 8:00 AM

The exhibited frames have been meticulously selected from about 1,500 pictures – silver gelatin prints and contact sheets – acquired from the TS Satyan Family Trust. (Museum of Art & Photography, Bengaluru)

A female uniformed officer seated on a cane chair, engaged in a phone conversation; an old lady being guided to cast her vote in Haryana; a devout Sikh bathing in the holy pond of the Golden Temple in Amritsar — such seemingly mundane facets of life turn into a mesmerising tapestry of visual narratives at With Great Ease: The Photography of TS Satyan, an exhibition by the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) in Bengaluru.

In honour of the centenary birth year of Mysuru-born Satyan, the exhibition stands as a tribute to his artistry, which turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. 

One of India’s earliest photojournalists, Satyan covered well-known personalities and ordinary people with equal ease, going beyond mere documentation.

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Selection process

The 42 showcased frames have been meticulously selected from a pool of around 1,500 photographs, encompassing silver gelatin prints and contact sheets obtained from the TS Satyan Family Trust.

These frames, displayed at Museum of Art and Photography, eloquently encapsulate moments that stretch across the 1960s to the 1970s.

“Throughout this period, he was involved in a multitude of activities. He covered elections, journeyed across the nation, and was commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) to document children — this accounts for the presence of numerous photographs featuring children. Additionally, he displayed a keen interest in documenting blindness and how individuals in India coped with it,” explains Arnika Ahldag, Head of Exhibitions at MAP.

Ahldag feels that Satyan was deeply interested in the medium.

“For him, it wasn’t just about having large-scale exhibitions and being widely known. Still, he could reach out to so many people because of the way he captured everyday life,” she explains.

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Pensive pictures

His images of workers, soldiers, and children leave the viewers curious as he doesn’t stop at merely recording a moment.

His photographs set people in contemplation.

“He had a very close relationship with the people he was photographing. Even when he captures moments of hardship, the picture doesn’t evoke a sense of pity in you. There is a wonderful photograph in the exhibition featuring two blind children playing with their toys. The image does evoke empathy and compassion, but what shines through is their bond and friendship,” the curator of MAP expresses.

The images in the show are predominantly of common people, barring a few exceptions like Jawaharlal Nehru and the late Kannada actor Shankar Nag.

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Unique narratives

What makes the photographs of Jawaharlal Nehru unique is that Satyan’s lens captured only the rear view of Nehru as he leisurely walked into the Parliament House.

Through the adept use of the chiaroscuro technique, the image presents Nehru not just as a statesman, but as a figure of grace and sensitivity.

Observers are left to contemplate the thoughts that might have occupied his mind during that moment.


Ahldag recounts the tale of Satyan’s encounter with Nehru, a narrative that the photographer documented in a newspaper article.

“He was commissioned to photograph Nehru for a reputed magazine,” Ahldag relates.

“He took a lot of photos and Nehru got a little fed up with him after some time and said, ‘Why are you taking so many pictures? Can’t you take one good picture and work with that?’. And Satyan replied, ‘You know, we have to take many pictures because we don’t know which picture will turn out really well.’ He continued to take pictures even when Nehru got inside the car and got out. And the photograph he selected was the one of Nehru coming out and walking away.”

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Symphony of storytelling

There are also two images of Satyan himself — one from 1999, where he is lying down on the floor amid his exhibition photographs, and an image of 25-year-old Satyan in Udupi by BS Achar.

His first camera —  Six-20 Brownie Model C, a box camera from Kodak — is also on display at the exhibition.

While Satyan’s reputation as one of the finest photojournalists is widely acknowledged, MAP’s intention has been to craft a unique exhibition showcasing his body of work.

“It was really important for us to underline what was special about his photos and why they could not have been clicked by anybody else. What is his authorship in all these photographs? I can’t think of another photographer who, in each frame, was able to bring out two things at least at the same time,” states the curator.

With an unwavering commitment to capturing authenticity, Satyan’s work celebrates the uncelebrated, elevating the simple moments of life into a symphony of storytelling that continues to resonate across generations.

This meticulously-curated exhibition at Museum of Art and Photography stands as a testament to that remarkable achievement, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the artistry and narrative depth that define Satyan’s photographic legacy.

(The exhibition is open for viewing at the Museum of Art and Photography, 22 Kasturba Road, Bengaluru, until November 20. Instagram @MAPBanglore)