It’s a striking cover. A strip of an old Kodak Tri-X negative runs across. Three black and white pictures, seemingly of images 12 to 14 from an old 35mm roll, are laid on this strip, within a ridge. The black and white is in sharp contrast to the chilli red of the hardbound. If you are looking for the title, it only comes to view gently, debossed as it is above the strip of images. The author’s name is even smaller, similarly debossed, above the title. The message is clear: This book is all about the images—not the words, not their author.
Indeed, that was one of the main considerations for Prashant Panjiar, the photojournalist-author, as he chose from over a hundred stories for a book spanning his career. Titled That Which Is Unseen, and published last month, the book has many of the iconic photographs that once accompanied stories for the publications Panjiar worked for. Here, though, he is telling the story of his images—vignettes that wouldn’t have made it to the news or the reporter’s story.
Panjiar’s almost 40-year-long career has spanned publications like The Patriot, India Today and Outlook. As an independent photojournalist in the latter half of his career, Panjiar would often look back at his archive “to assess the work and find answers as to how to go ahead”. In 2017-18, he decided to relocate to Goa. “When I was reorganising my archives (there), I had started posting on social media, short backstories to some of my pictures. There was a bit of response for it,” he recalls.
Each image would bring a memory to life—some adventurous, some sombre, yet others of struggle and camaraderie. Vivek Desai, the managing trustee of Navajivan Trust and a photographer in his own right, happened to see the posts and in 2019, reached out to Panjiar to turn them into a book.
Divided chronologically into four sections, over 1981-2010, the book tells 59 stories, some with multiple images. Each is barely 500 words—quick and witty.
Panjiar’s oeuvre draws a wide arc, charting the life and times of a country: from following dacoits in the Chambal region to politicians on the campaign trail; from rediscovering forgotten pockets of Anglo-Indian communities to understanding the quieter, harsh realities of child foeticide; from showing starvation and poverty, to cheeky insights into the lives of the rich and famous. His accompanying observations remind us that the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same.
“The idea was that the stories should interest non-photographers too, and anyone who is interested in contemporary history in India. Whenever a story became too much about me, I left that out."