Curated by Shanay Jhaveri, Margaret Sartor and Devika Singh
In collaboration with Duke University Libraries
Widely acclaimed in the photography milieu, William Gedney (1932-1989) was one of the key figures of American black and white street photography whose work deserved to be brought to the attention of a larger, international public. This was especially so for the in-depth work he carried out in India.
Gedney’s photographs of India were taken over two extensive stays, as a Fullbright scholar from 1969 to 1971 and on his return to India ten years later. During his first trip, Gedney spent about a year and a half in Benares, living with a local family, while his second stay focused on the city of Calcutta. Unlike many foreign photographers who travelled to India in these decades, Gedney drew an intimate portrait of the people he encountered. This body of work was also particularly dear to Gedney, who prepared an as yet unpublished dummy of his night photographs of Benares. Following Gedney’s wishes that these be donated to an Indian institution, his books and cameras are housed at Chitrabani in Kolkata, while his archives and photographs are preserved at Duke University.
Including over 40 works, the exhibition at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery was the first museum presentation focusing exclusively on William Gedney’s photographs of India.
William Gedney was an American documentary and street photographer. It wasn’t until after his death that his work got widely recognized.
He was born in Greenville, New York. He studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In 1955 he graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design and began work with Condé Nast.
During his lifetime, Gedney received several fellowships and grants, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship for photography in India, a New York State Creative Artists Public Service Program grant; and a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
In a career spanning late 1950s to mid-1980s, he created a large body of work, including series documenting local communities during his travels to India, San Francisco, Brooklyn and New York shot in 1960s and 1970s. He is also noted for night photography, principally of large structures, like the Brooklyn bridge and architecture, and architectural studies of neighbourhoods quiet and empty, in the nightlike his ‘Benaras by Night’ series.
In 1964, Gedney embarked on a major personal project centred on a coal-mining town of Kentucky where he developed a close, multi-year relation with a local family. After receiving a Guggenheim fellowship, Gedney took a cross- country trip to California where he decided to focus on the drifters of the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. In 1968, before Gedney’s first trip to India, John Szarkowski curated the only solo exhibition during his lifetime ‘Eastern Kentucky and San Francisco: Photographs by Gedney’ at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Gedney’s work has been exhibited in numerous group shows in Gallery 292, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York and San Francisco, Pratt Institute, New York, CSMVS, Mumbai amongst others.
An extensive collection of his work, including contact sheets, sketchbooks, notebooks, and photographs are now housed at the Duke University in North Carolina.
Geney died of AIDS in 1989, aged 56, in New York.