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Benu Sen, The Legend of Indian Photography

Benu Sen, The Legend Photographer

If life is a collage of fleeting moments, Benu Sen's camera has trapped them in myriad tones and hues. Be it his monochromes with alluring play of light and shade, or his poignant candid shots - Benu Sen has proved his metier in varied domains of photography.

Mr. Benu Sen (1932) served as Secretary General, Federation of Indian Photography and President of Photographic Association of Dum Dum was the living legend in the field of International Pictorial Photography. His contribution both as individual artist and as a promoter for the development of Indian Photography is perhaps exceeds that of any Indian Photographer.

Trained to be a ground engineer, Benu Sen's alliance with the viewfinder happened by a sheer play of chance. It was August 15, 1954, when Sen accompanied a camera-lugging friend to an Independence Day celebration. The device sparked off his curiosity and he was keen to have a look at the new equipment with his friend, who however turned down the request on the ground that his tampering might damage the camera. That came as a blow to his pride which took him the very next day to a junk market in Kolkata - to look for lenses, tin and other scrap materials to assemble his very own camera. The success of this attempt triggered a spurt of diverse experimentation in camera mechanics and darkroom techniques. Not surprisingly, engineering took a backseat.

He was the 3rd man in the world to have received the rare honour of 'Master of Photography' (M.F.I.A.P.) from the Federation International de L'Art Photographique, a body under the recognition of UNESCO. He was conferred the Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (F.R.P.S.) in 1975, EFIAP in 1960, ESFIAP in 1972, and few years back conferred with Hon. EFIAP, the highest honour of FIAP.He had number of Honorary fellowships like Hon F.J.I.A.P. (Japan), F.N.P.A.S. (Sri Lanka), Hon. F.P.B.S. (Bangladesh), Hon. F.P.A.D (India),Hon. F.C.O.S (Romania), Hon. P.A.B, Hon. S.O.P etc. for his contribution to pictorial photography.

In 1957, Benu Sen, along with a like-minded friends, established the Photographic Association of Dumdum (PAD) to practice, propagate and discuss the nuances of this art form. Another remarkable contribution of Sen is his initiative in setting up a state-of-the-art photography department in the Indian Museum Kolkata. Established in 1963, it was the first of this kind in India.

However, the most notable milestone for this septuagenarian photo artist was perhaps the starting of free photographic courses under the wings of PAD. Since the launch of the course in 1969, PAD has blossomed into a full-fledged institute for systematic schooling in photography, totally free of cost. With an expert faculty, all of whom are engaged voluntarily.

His other remarkable contribution to photography are the BS4 formula, an extra ordinary fine grain developer for tropical countries., Tonorama and macro pictography. He introduced colour photogram and colour separation from Black & White Negatives in India.

He has organized seven (7) International Photographic Conferences, twelve (12) All India Seminars, forty eight (48) international Salons and several local exhibitions to promote and propagate photography throughout the world. He organized a number of Solo Exhibitions and Group Shows. He presented a number of papers and published a number of articles, delivered T.V & Radio talks on photography. He was former Vice President and founder member of India International Photographic Council, New Delhi and Former Vice President, Calcutta Photo Club Coordination Center. He has served as Jury of selection in a number of International Salons both in India and abroad during the last 50 years. He has written a few books as well. One of the most valuable publications was "Art of Photography" in 1979. He is co-author of the most important book "Experimental Photography" and "Learn Photography". Benu Sen's finesse is all-encompassing, spanning the range of photoČjournalism, architectural photography, portraits and the subtieties of pictorialism -according to him an ionic status in the glossy world of Photography. But his most enduring legacy will perhaps be in pioneering efforts in opening up new vistas in photography for the generation after us.

Benu Sen retired from the Indian Museum as photo Officer in 1990 contributed a lot both in the field of Social & Cultural Anthropology and allied Museum Photography. As an artist he had enormous number of Exhibits in different Salons throughout the world and won several awards from various countries during last fifty years of his artistic photography. For his peculiarly imaginative works, which look less like photographs and more like painter's dabblings, he was adjudged the best Indian Pictorialist by the Camera World International, Australia besides being honoured by the Harvard Senetic Museum, Harvard University, for his outstanding contribution to museum photography. He was conferred life time achievement award by Government of India in 2010 for his valuable contribution in the field of creative photography.

Honorary Fellowships/Memberships

  • Hon. Excellence, Federation Internationale De l'Art Photographique(Hon. EFIAP) -2006
  • Hon. Fellow, Photographic Association of Dum Dum(Hon. FPAD) -1982
  • Hon. Fellow, Natioal Photographic Art Society of Sri Lanka(Hon. FNPAS) - 1976
  • Hon. Fellow, Bangladesh Photographic Society (Hon. FBPS)
  • Hon. Member, Japan International Photographic Federation(Hon. JIPF)
  • Hon. Member Foto Club of Sibiu(Hon.FCOS), Romania
  • Hon. Member Federation of Indian Photography
  • Hon. Member Photographic Association of Bengal, Kolkata
  • Hon. Member Society of Photographers, Howrah
  • Honorary Member of many other photographic organisations

Honours/Distinctions/Award

  • Recipient of Life Time Achievement Award from Govt, of India - 2010
  • Master Federation Internationale De l'Art Photographique(MFIAP) - 1982 (Third Photographer in the world and second in India to receive this honour from the UNESCO recognized body FIAP)
  • Fellow of Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (FRPS) -1975
  • Excellent Service Federation Internationale De l'Art Photographique (ESFIAP) -1972

The third Secretary General to carry on glorious legacy of FIP - was the great Benu Sen Ji, widely and affectionately known as Benu Da in Indian Photography world.

I did not get a chance to meet Dr.G.Thomas and C. Rajagopal Ji in person, this is the reason enough to call me an unfortunate person, but I am not only fortunate enough to meet Benu Da several times, but also able to interact and discuss the intricacies of photographic art with him and in the process got benefited tremendously. I can still recall how difficult it was for me in earlier meetings at the time of LCC judging, to gather enough courage to even talk with him, that was the time of mid 80's and 90's, Benu Da was always a quiet and reserve person, a man of few words but what an enormous treasure of knowledge and imagination he had, he was a master artist, philosopher, guide and above all an excellent human being, always willing to help anybody and everybody. In real sense he was an artist of extra ordinary class, an inborn teacher, a doyen and a legendry pictorialist beyond compare, I do not get appropriate words to define Benu Da in totality, writing about Benu Da is an endless endeavour, he was far ahead of his time, very progressive and innovative always. Dr. Thomas very rightly described Benu Da as the "Wizard of Photography".

He was single mindedly engaged and devoted to the development of photography as an art form. He nurtured his students to achieve great heights in the field of creative photography, passionately ever engaged in imparting the knowledge to his students, enlightened their mind and thoughts - this is the reason Benu Da is ever loved and adored by his students.

Cruel death has snatched away Benu Da from us last year, but as I said earlier, artists don't die, legends don't die, they go very high and become stars to shine ever and ever.

-Anil Risal Singh

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