Envisioning Asia Gandhi and Mao in the photographs of Walter Bosshard

Dandi, Indien, 7. April 1930

Co-produced by Critical Collective (Delhi) and Swiss Foundation

             for Photography (Winterthur, Switzerland)

Curators: Gayatri Sinha / Peter Pfrunder

Bilkulonline.com, Jan 3: Seventy years after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, the photographs of Walter Bosshard shed new light on the Independence movement, the salt march to Dandi in 1930 and the personality of its leader. Bosshard preceded the illustrious photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Margaret Bourke-White who came to India in the late 1940s to photograph the Mahatma, by documenting this first vital gesture at Dandi, of the Civil Disobedience movement. A few years later he travelled to China to document Mao Zedong and the Red army training in the caves of Yan’an.

Image may contain: one or more people, mountain, sky, tree, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: one or more people, mountain, sky, tree, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: 3 people, crowd, sky, wedding and outdoor

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

Gayatri Sinha (Director and Founder of Critical Collective) with Curatorial assistance: Ridhi Khanna

Co-curators Gayatri Sinha and Peter Pfrunder bring together this rare archive of Gandhi and Mao images at the Satya Art Gallery, presented by the Navajivan Trust.

These photographs are being seen in India for the first time. 

The Swiss photographer Walter Bosshard (1892–1975) was a pioneer in the field of photojournalism. A master of both the word and the camera, he made a name for himself as a bridge builder between Asia and Europe, reporting on key political events and daily life in Asia in the 1930s. Today, his photographs and films are a rich source of information for understanding global history. Bosshard’s archive is preserved by the Swiss Foundation for Photography in Winterthur (Zurich), a national institution founded in 1971, tasked with caring for the photographic heritage of Switzerland.

In a dream assignment by the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, Bosshard was sent to India to report on the growing unrest and the Independence movement. In March 1930 he started on an eight month journey of Asia; he crossed 20,000 kilometres by car, to numerous cities and countries, and came into contact with over 5,000 people of various backgrounds.

The highlight of his assignment appeared on 18th May 1930 when the Münchner Illustrierte published Walter Bosshard’s story on Mahatma Gandhi. The cover of the magazine showed Gandhi deeply immersed in reading, his head leaning on his hand. Inside the magazine, the viewer encountered the Mahatma in intimate situations – while he ate onion soup, while he shaved, and even while he slept. Bosshard’s unusual portraits were widely distributed and admired. The photographs challenged Gandhi’s own ambivalent attitude to photography, as Bosshard noticed. When asked for permission to take photographs, the camera-shy Mahatma replied: “I have sworn never to ‘pose’ for a photographer! Try your luck, perhaps it might even turn out well”.

The impressions of his journey through India were published by Bosshard in his book Indien kämpft! in 1931.

From India Bosshard then returned to China. He had visited China in 1938, and made the first silent film on Mao Zedong, the emergent revolutionary. Living and working in China between 1933 and 1939, Bosshard photographed daily life, the bombing of Hankou and China’s nomadic communities. Most importantly he photographed Mao Zedong in the caves of Yan’an, the training of the Red army, Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling.

Bosshard  occupies a singular place in 20th century photographic history. Today nearly 90 years later, his photographs offer a compelling comparison between two dominant figures of Asia, Gandhi and Mao as viewed from a single lens. Photographs of the Dandi March and the training of the Red Army, the message of nationalism and the symbols of resistance that these leaders adopted, reveal salient aspects of Asia’s history.

The exhibition project, co-produced by Fotostiftung Schweiz (Winterthur) and Critical Collective (Delhi) combines 53 of Bosshard’s iconic portrays of Gandhi and Mao. The original negatives have been digitized in Switzerland in order to produce high quality exhibition prints in India.

There is also a silent film on Mao shot by Bosshard in 1938.

The show is co-curated by Gayatri Sinha (Director and Founder of Critical Collective) and Peter Pfrunder (Director of the Swiss Foundation for Photography).


Presented by:

Navajivan Trust


Gayatri Sinha is an art critic and curator whose primary areas of interest are gender and iconography, media, economics, and social history. She has curated extensively in India, Europe, the United States, China and South Korea. Sinha is the founder and director of Critical Collective, an initiative to build knowledge in the visual arts in India. Sinha’s publications include Voices of Change: 20 Indian Artists (2010), Art and Visual Culture in India 1857–2007 (2009), and Indian Art: An Overview (2003), among others. She has lectured widely on Indian art, including the Tate Modern, Asia Society, New York, MoMA New York, Tate Britain, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, National Museum, NGMA, Delhi, etc. She was the recipient of the Tate Asia Research fellowship in 2017.

Peter Pfrunder is Director and Curator of the Fotostiftung Schweiz / Swiss Foundation for Photography, Winterthur (Switzerland). His publications and exhibitions on the history of photography include Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present – A Different History of Photography (Lars Muller Publishers, Baden 2011); Jules Decrauzat, Der erste Fotoreporter der Schweiz (Echtzeit, Basel 2015); Kindheit in der Schweiz / Enfances suisses (Limmat Verlag, Zurich 2015); and Roberto Donetta. Fotograf und Samenhändler aus dem Bleniotal (Limmat Verlag, 2016).

You can visit this rare photographs exhibition at Navsarjan Trust behind Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad.