Prashant Panjiar’s King, Commoner, Citizen is a collection of photographs that blends the somewhat incongruous contemporary lives of erstwhile Indian princes with the incredibly diverse, layered, euphoric, despairing, paradoxical existence of the common Indian. Panjiar’s study is careful; he accords to king and commoner alike a quiet space and dignity. He achieves this by rejecting the intrusively newsy or overtly stylistic image, choosing a wider, inclusive form of portraiture instead. Through these portraits, the viewer gains access to the odd contiguity of ease and despair in the lives of the protagonists. Contrasts abound, though the shadows do not always fall predictably. Eventually, the terms King and Commoner prove to be just bait. We are invited to examine the distinction, only to find it deliberately obfuscated, the boundaries between the two increasingly blurred. Royalty decays, the regal reduced to artifice; the commoner finds moments of uncrowned rule in the airy abandon of his daily round. There is a deep melancholy in the eyes of the ageing nawab; the rustic smiles, man and monkey sleep the mythical sleep of kings. Panjiar’s viewfinder, for a fleeting moment, erases a difference.
Panjiar doesn’t strip the emperor’s clothes; his soft eyes merely gesture at the translucence. He restrains himself from crowning the commoner, granting him but a transient elevation. Somewhere in the course of the viewing one senses the evocation of a subaltern view of the photographer’s times. All too quietly, without the single image itself consciously presuming to judge, the collection gains the credibility of a comment on the Citizen, perhaps on a nation.
– Extracted from Sanjeev Saith’s foreword to the India Picture Photography Monograph, ‘King, Commoner, Citizen’ published 2007.
Prashant Panjiar is a self-taught photographer. He has worked as a photojournalist and editor in mainstream media at the Patriot newspaper (1984-1986), India Today (1986-1995) and the Outlook Group of Publications (1995-2001).
Since 2001 Panjiar has been working independently, specialising in reportage, editorial and documentary photography. He also continues to work as a consulting picture editor and is actively involved in mentoring younger photographers. He has served on the jury of the World Press Photo Awards in Amsterdam in 2002, the China International Press Photo Competition in 2005 and the Indian Express Press Photo Awards.
Panjiar is co-founder and managing trustee of Nazar Foundation, a non-profit trust for the promotion of the photographic arts and also the co-founder and one of the creative directors of the Delhi Photo Festival.