Capturing the many moods of Kolkata by going beyond cliches like ‘city of joy’, international photographer Steve Raymer has come up with a collection of striking images that portray the contradictions of a metropolis stuck in a time warp.
Published as a book Redeeming Calcutta: A Portrait of India’s Imperial Capital by the Oxford University Press, the 200 photographs, including historic black-and-white images, takes readers through the streets, ghats and the unique skyline of Kolkata which was once British capital of India.
‘If there is a theme, it is one of hope and decay – a great, proud, and decrepit city rediscovering itself and its place in modern India and a globalised world,’ Raymer, who was worked as the National Geographic Magazine staff photographer for 24 years, says.
The images go beyond all stereotypes associated mostly with Kolkata as they discover a city with ambitions to reclaim its past grandeur.
The lensman says Kolkata is a city that embodies the powerful contrasts and contradictions of a metropolis that is neither entirely eastern nor western.
‘Indeed, Kolkata is one of Asia’s great hybrids. Kolkatans take pride in culture and respect the past which makes it one of the world’s greatest cities,’ says Raymer, who has worked extensively in the Indian sub-continent.
Painting an inclusive portrait of the city, the book unfolds the life of the city from many angles, from the pre-colonial era to the present times.
From the historical architecture beauty of Kolkata to new high-rises and shanties existing side by side, the book shows the myriad hues of life in this metropolis.
‘Kolkata is unique among Asian cities because it is caught in a time warp. Even Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi today probably have a more vibrant global focus. But Kolkata is struggling to reconnect to a globalised world,’ he says adding that it is a feast for the eye of a visual journalist looking for what remains of another time.
In his forward to the book, renowned historian Dipesh Chakrabarty writes, ‘Raymer’s photos also re-introduces me to Calcutta, as if to a long-lost friend, and I begin to see the city afresh and to see certain things differently.... Raymer presents a Calcutta caught up, however feebly, in the changes that have produced a more connected world.’