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Moments Outside the Frame

POSTED: 31 October 2020

How is the past recollected? Introducing Autograph's latest book, of artist Sunil Gupta's personal archive.




Sunil Gupta’s work has been an inspiration to generations of photographic activists and LGBTQ+ rights campaigners. Since the 1970s, he’s created socially engaged photography exploring race, migration and queer issues - and the complexities of sexuality and homosexual life.

From participating in New York's Gay Liberation Movement in the 1970s to his more recent campaigning for gay liberation in India, Sunil has directly engaged with the political realities around the fight for international gay rights for decades, creating photography throughout. You can see his work in our retrospective exhibition, on now at The Photographers’ Gallery in London.

Sunil has also collected a personal archive of hundreds of snapshots, postcards, news clippings, letters and notes from his long career in activism and photography. It traces a life-long journey advocating for visibility and  change, and the social backdrop Sunil faced as a gay Indian man living in the UK, America and India.

This ephemera is part of what our Director, Mark Sealy, refers to as the moments outside the frame. These moments tell a compelling story that is both personal and political, important enough that we’ve published Sunil’s archive in a new book From Here to Eternity. In an excerpt from his introduction, Mark reflects on the project, and how the past is recollected.

"The past for most of us is an uneasy place to visit. It is the door that we are most reluctant to push open because emotionally we are never sure what might lie behind it."


“I have been talking with Sunil Gupta for over 30 years, if not more. Every time we speak, it has been a different kind of dialogue, a more enlightened one as I increasingly understand him and his work. As we moved closer towards the final stages of his exhibition, our discussions became more of a process of collecting recollections. The ephemera of his life facilitated this process and helped us comprehend what he looks for as an artist. Being able to spend time with Gupta as we developed this project has been a real learning curve mainly because of his infectious sense of ease concerning turbulent pasts and intersections with pleasure. The past for most of us is an uneasy place to visit. It is the door that we are most reluctant to push open because emotionally we are never sure what might lie behind it.

Curatorially, I think what is really interesting concerning the career of an artist like Gupta is the point where things began and the catalytic moments of making, the drivers that push people on in their lives that make them choose a life in and with politics. I see Gupta as saying yes to being a photographer as a radical act, yes to being an artist and yes to being a person who recognises that he needs to love to survive. Looking across his work it is evident that the powerful undercurrent that ties all of it together is relationships."
"The more I understand Gupta’s praxis, the more I understand that his work, body and being are a creative political and personal marriage; commitment hurts the heart and dizzies the head.

Gupta’s photography incorporates the big (P)olitics of social change, but it is also a life lived in politics that fuels his journey as both a leader and a follower through family, location and geography, and through different kinds of communities, across race, place and gender. At the soul of Gupta’s practice, what connects his work to so many different constituencies is the idea of family, be it imagined or real.”

Excerpt from Mark Sealy's essay Moments in the Frame. Read the full text, along with nearly 200 pages of images from Sunil's archive in Sunil Gupta: From Here To Eternity. Purchase the book in Autograph's online shop, £25 (with free UK shipping).

We’re a registered charity, all purchases support Autograph’s arts and learning programmes.


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acknowledgements

Sunil Gupta: From Here to Eternity has been published to accompany the major exhibition From Here to Eternity: Sunil Gupta. A Retrospective at The Photographers’ Gallery, London 9 Oct 2020 – 24 Jan 2021; and touring to Ryerson Image Centre Gallery, Toronto autumn 2021. Published by Autograph in association with The Photographers' Gallery and Ryerson Image Centre. Supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Also supported by The Bagri Foundation, London.

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Supported using public funding by Arts Council England
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Images: from Autograph's new book Sunil Gupta: From Here to Eternity. Featuring images courtesy the artist.