The Photograph Five

Sunil Gupta

March 1, 2023

Photographer, curator, and activist Sunil Gupta has made work over the last four decades characterized by its social and political commentary on race, queer identity, and migration (he grew up in Delhi, moved to Canada as a teenager, then to the US and ultimately to London, where he lives now). Some of his first photographs were taken of New York City’s Christopher Street in the mid-1970s; for Exiles (1986-87), he photographed gay men in front of famous tourist sites in Delhi. His work is on view in the exhibition This Is Britain: Photographs from the 1970s and 1980s, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., through June 11, as well as in the group show Queer Love at the Lehman College Art Gallery through April 28. His latest book, We Were Here: Sexuality, Photography, and Cultural Difference, was published by Aperture in October.

Gupta responded to five questions from photograph.

Charan Singh, photo by Sunil Gupta

Name a photograph that brings you joy.

Photographs of my partner, Charan Singh, also known as #husbandji on Instagram. He loves to pose in exuberant and silly ways that remind me how much it is possible to love someone even if they didn’t exactly turn out to be the person you thought you were marrying.

Cover of Master of the Photographic Essay: W. Eugene Smith. Photo: ©Aperture, 2023

Favorite photo book?

W. Eugene Smith: Master of the Photographic Essay (Aperture 1981). It’s a book I have treasured for many years and often turn to. For those who haven’t come across it, it looks like enlarged contact sheets from his photo essays. It’s an insight into the choices made by a working photographer, and I made an important discovery that greatly influenced me: that a story didn’t have to turn on a decisive moment.

Sonia Boyce, Feeling Her Way installation, 2023. Courtesy Turner Contemporary

Last exhibition you saw?

Sonia Boyce: Feeling Her Way at the Turner Contemporary. Last Saturday a friend and I drove down to the seaside town of Margate in Kent to see Sonia’s exhibition. We hadn’t made it to Venice last year, where it won the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2022. It was amazing to spend time with the work in a quieter moment and in a quieter location with glimpses of the North Sea. I’ve known Sonia since the ’80s, and it was nice to see her get the recognition she deserves.

Favorite museum?

I haven’t got one, but I suppose it would have to be the Tate Modern, as it is just down the road from me and feels like an extension of home. But I can’t help remembering Lisette Model telling me, “Darling, when your work is dead, it will end up in the museum.” She used to take us, her students, to the Metropolitan in New York to photograph the live people looking at the dead art.

Favorite work of art that’s not a photograph?

Currently, it’s a city – Rome. I’m completely enamored with it and have been there as frequently as possible in the last year. I want to learn the language and spend more and more time wandering the streets with a camera away from my everyday life. I think it will see me through my 70s.

Cover of Sunil Gupta’s We Were Here: Sexuality, Photography, and Cultural Difference (Aperture 2023)