Glass previews From Here to Eternity: Sunil Gupta A Retrospective at The Photographer’s Gallery, London

THIS October, The Photographer’s Gallery will exhibit From Here to Eternity: Sunil Gupta A Retrospective: the largest exhibition of Gupta’s work to date. Gupta is famed for his 50 years of subversive photography, drawing on his experience of what he has termed exile from India, and his queer identity.

The exhibition will comprise of a range of Gupta’s work: series like Christopher Street (1976), his first collection made  as a practising artist, depicting the gay scene in Greenwich Village, The New Pre-Raphaelites (2008), made up of theatrically and romantically staged portraits of members of the LGBTQ community, and the previously unseen Memorials (1995), documenting the victims of homophobic hate crimes.

Born in 1953 in New Delhi, India, Gupta migrated to Canada at 15. He was educated in photography in New York, and then London, where he now lives and works. His photography is coloured by these multi-national experiences; addressing ideas of migration, identity, family and the political.

These broader ideas are mapped onto the queer bodies that he photographs. He describes his inability to freely embody his queer identity in  post-Partition India, and this feeling of otherness, and of being an outsider, translates to his work.

His portraits intersect the staged and the intimate, at once the product of meaningful relationship, and curated imagery. Gupta began by photographing a kind of atmosphere. Struck by the openly queer passersby in Greenwich Village, he created a portrait of a time and place in Christopher Street (1976). This developed into series born of personal relationships. He would photograph people he knew, or seek out communities, and develop friendships with them as he captured their portraits, like those photographed for Mr Malhotra’s Party (2006).

Sunil Gupta, Untitled #9, from the series Sun City, 2010

Sunil Gupta, ‘Untitled #22’, from the series Christopher Street, 1976

The New Pre-Raphaelites series explores this intersection of honest engagement with the subject, and bold exhibition. It was born as part of the fight against colonial-era laws punishing homosexuality in India, namely Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which has since been judged unconstitutional. As part of his protest, Gupta photographed South Asian members of the LGBT community in the languid positions and rich colour-palette of Pre-Raphaelite paintings: queer people of colour presented in the  trimmings of lauded Western creatives, as part of the fight against colonially enforced discrimination. The Pre-Raphaelites worked for a reimagining of the constraints of art, while Gupta consistently calls for the reformation of society. The series presents a fusion of real struggle and romantic myth: beautiful portraits that confront the viewer with the realities of queer identity under homophobic government. Gupta was at the forefront of the movement in India. This call for reform, and political persuasion are implicit throughout his photography.

Sunil Gupta, ‘Untitled #11’, from the series ‘The New Pre-Raphaelites’, 2008

Sunil Gupta, ‘Untitled #11’, from the series ‘The New Pre-Raphaelites’, 2008

Sunil Gupta, Jama Masjid, from the series ‘Exiles’, 1987

Gupta’s is an extensive oeuvre dedicated to voices that are otherwise suppressed. The retrospective offers the most comprehensive exhibition of Gupta’s work to date.

by Connie de Pelet

From Here to Eternity: Sunil Gupta A Retrospective will be on at The Photographer’s Gallery  October 9, 2020 – January 24, 2021