Remembering ace photographer Nemai Ghosh: Best photographs by "Ray's Lensman"
“For close on twenty-five years, Nemai Ghosh has been photographing me in action and repose – a sort of Boswell with a camera than a pen.” – Satyajit Ray.
If one ever gets into the lore around master filmmaker Satyajit Ray, there's one name which keeps popping up, and is often mentioned with the respect reserved only for legends. Nemai Ghosh's work as a photographer is nothing short of legendary.
Described by Ray as "(James) Boswell with a camera", Nemai Ghosh breathed his last on Wednesday morning in his Kolkata home at the age of 86.
Nemai Ghosh's story, and his legend with the still camera are intertwined with Satyajit Ray; whom he'd call Manik Da. It might seem incredible that a prolific photographer like Ghosh had never clicked a photograph before he met Ray on sets of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969), but that's how legends are - quirks of fate.
Ghosh was a fairly popular thespian in Kolkata circles, when one fine evening a friend of his, who owed him Rs 200, found a fixed-lens Canon camera that someone had left behind in a taxi. On a whim, Ghosh offered to write off the loan in exchange for the camera. And thus began the tale of Ray's Lensman and someone who the legendary Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "allows us to be intimate with filmmaking, and to feel the drive, the alertness and the profundity of this giant of cinema".
Ghosh would say, “Let alone photography, I did not even know how to click a camera.” Then his friends decided to go to Burdwan for a weekend outing and got to know that Ray was shooting the GGBB there. Immediately the group rushed to the spot, and since they knew Rabi Ghosh who played Bagha in the film, got access to the shoot.
He clicked a few pictures and when he showed them to the master, Ray said, “You have shot them exactly the way I would have. You have got the same angles,” as Ghosh recalled in an interview to National Herald in 2019.
Since then Ghosh's camera covered the making of Ray’s films for over three decades, as well as theatre in Bengal, Indian artists and tribes, and his hometown, Kolkata.
He rekindled his passion for theatre in his later life when he decided to capture the world of Bengali theatre on film in his boom, "Dramatic Moments".
He also documented Indian art in Faces of Indian Art, collaborated with renowned painter Paresh Maity on a book of paintings and photographs, and has also documented his city, Kolkata, in a book of the same name. He also photographed locals and tribes across India, from Bastar, Chhattisgarh to Kutch, Gujarat, among others.
Nemai Ghosh's trademark was that he'd only shoot in natural light and a strong preference for black and white. “I play with different shades of light and shadows in my photographs and so have a preference for black and white as it can capture light, ambient and hidden, in a manner colour cannot,” says Ghosh.
Ghosh was a jury member at the 2007 National awards and even received a Padma Shree from the Indian government in 2010. In his long career lasting over 25 years, Ghosh had clicked more than 90,000 photographs.