Swapan Nayak : Being & Nothigness

“Each of my five senses has contributed significantly in enriching my life and work. I believe that ideas don’t die. They get stored. My world is a storehouse of such ‘ideas’. You could call them memories. At every stage of my life, the past, and the long-forgotten, resurface to throw light on the present, which is why I seek a kind of quiet. It helps me to connect with my past. Makes it possible for me to explore what I have come to recognize as my ‘roots’. My beginnings” says Swapan Nayak an independent photographer from Kolkata. Nayak born and brought up in a small village in West Bengal, after finishing his college he moved to Kolkata. This was drastic change in his life. It was a complete contrast compare to the rural life. If you see his work, you will realize it revolves around this change and the way city has showed him different ways of life and the way he has seen suffering, anguish and joy given by the same city.


He started his work in photography from 1995. Since then he has worked as editorial photographer for various publications from Indian and abroad. His work has been appreciated by international audience and published in various places. Also he has done many exhibitions. In year 2002 he was awarded National Media Fellowship followed by the Nirmal photography fellowship in 2006 and in the period of 2009-2011 Nayak was rewarded National Senior fellowship in photography (visual arts) by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. His photographs had been published in world’s leading magazines like Time, News Week, Asia Week and Southern Exposure. He has also worked on photographic versions of the book ‘The hunger tide’ by Amitav Ghosh and ‘the inheritance loss’ by Kiran Desai.

He is known by his three main solo exhibitions, ‘Nowhere people’, ‘Refugee In Their Own Land’ and the latest one ‘Being & Nothingness’. He was also part of the group exhibition ‘Click! Contemporary photography from India’.

‘Nowhere people’ was a series of photographs based on the inhabitant of a temporary river island in the river Brahmaputra in Assam. They have very unsettled life as they move constantly ever year. Brahmaputra is a most dangerous river, every year there is flood that is why people staying on the bank/ islands immigrate to other places. Life is very tough in these regions. Nayak has done a beautiful documentation of their struggle, which shows the effect of irremediable catastrophe.

In ‘Refugee In Their Own Land’ he has documented conflict and internal displacement of the people in Northeast India.  He says, “The irony of the situation is that though the numerous militant outfits claim to be fighting the Indian state for political autonomy, in reality they are fighting each other for control of limited resources. And not surprisingly, it is the educated elite that prompt the gun-slinging youth into firing the shots. ‘Ethnic cleansing’ is the order of the day in extensive parts of Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. It involves different ethnic groups like the Bodos, Nagas, Kukis, Paites, Mizos, Reangs, Bengalis and Chakmas, Meiteis, Dimasas, Hmars etc. Most people in the states of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura have been displaced.” This series is astonishing; the images are thought provoking and at the same time lugubrious.

His latest work is ‘Being & Nothingness’ is highly inspired by French philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre’s theory of Being and Nothingness, which is part of his long term metaphorical series. After reading the two volumes of Sartre’s philosophy, Swapan Nayak found it highly inspiring. He found perfect connection between his work, his past and the philosophy. His life has been a story of migration form a small village to a ruthless city. He sees life and death as two transit points in the universe and rest everything is consumed by nothingness. And as he stares at the vacuum of nothingness, his mind is filled with flickering images with shadows between them. And through these images these ‘Shadows’ are what he is trying to capture. This series is more abstract compare to his previous work but still they are extremely sensitive and capable to move you from inside. They successfully make an impact on each individual differently. Also as they are based on Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophy with same name, it plays important role in consciousness of individual viewer.


Being and Nothingness includes 60 photographs, which are clicked by Nayak in the period of last two and half years. They are form various parts of northeast India such as Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam, Meghalaya and many other. These are the photographs of lonely beaches, abandoned sea, bullock cart and cycle, barren areas and lonely house under the empty sky. Swapan Nayak says, this show is not just a documentation of images but through this he is reflecting upon his feelings and perception of things around him. Nayak has decided not to title the photographs in this series so the location they were shot at remains unknown as those places is not important factor of these series, the message and feel is more important.

He says, “For me a complete picture has to be more that the right moment. It is formed when socio-economic aspect, the history and the architectural value are taken into account”. “Being and nothingness’ is not just about the subject but also the way they have been taken.  Swapan Nayak still follows old methods of photography and printing. He believes the process of printing photos is as important as taking them. In this series of photographs, each image has a meditative quality. Anyone can sit in front of any photograph and can experience meditative quality of it; hence Nayak thinks that the process of creating these photographs supports the experience of viewing them as well. Therefore this whole series has been shot on square format Hasselblad camera, he later developed the film on gelatin silver print himself. He refuses to use digital medium. Swapan Nayak says, “It is something that is eating into the passion of the photographers who want to make a difference with their camera and their photography.”

‘Being & Nothingness’ includes images with large scattered clouds in the sky, sea, tree bark, and stone, which have individually unique characteristics. Through this series Nayak has depicted an unbelievable relation between human and nature. There is no direct presence of human, but small silhouettes. Hence it makes them just an element of the photograph. In some photographs the human presence is distinct but still indirectly through abandoned boat, string and cloths, lonely house in a vast field. As if there is isolated presence of human with actual absence of any human.

All though these images are taken in span of two and half years, they have consistency in them in terms of subject as well as the feel and collective impact. Most of the photographs are taken on the beaches and they include objects related to the sea, hence which one can say it is the common link amongst most of them. The presence of ocean definitely gives the meditative feeling of infinite, limitlessness. And not only just ocean but this feeling of limitlessness is coming through many other elements as well, such as lone house in the endless grass land or bench at the edge of the valley.

As I have mentioned before these series is completely abstract art and each individual perceive it in a different manner. Along with it I find this series highly surreal as well. The whole experience takes you to a different space all together. When you are looking at each photograph individually there is a sense of tranquility. Most of these images are out of focus, blurred but still these elements are contributing a lot in the overall meditative impact. Being edgy these images also have fine art quality.




Exhibition schedule:

Mumbai – 11 August – 19 August 2011

Ahmadabad – 07 October – 16 October 2011

Kolkata – 22 November – 30 November 2011

Delhi – 23 January – 31 January 2012

Bangalore – 20 April – 12 May 2012


1 comment
  1. abhay said:

    Good work.Introduced well.

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