Tuesday 20 October 2009

Arun Ghandi opens new photographic exhibition at Dundee

Arun Gandhi, activist and grandson of Mahatma Ghandi, visited the University recently to deliver the Margaret Harris Lecture on Religion, entitled '21st Century Peace-Making: The Gandhi Way'

Before the lecture, Dr Gandhi officially opened an exhibition titled 'India in Close Up' featuring rarely seen Indian photographs by Hungarian photo-journalist, Michael Peto. Taken during two tours of India with the Save the Children Fund in the exhibition features images of everyday life in India in the 1960s along with private portraits of Indira Gandhi and her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, two of India's most charismatic Prime Ministers.

Michael Peto was born in Bata, Hungary in 1908. Of Jewish origin, he moved to Budapest during the 1930s travelling to London at the outset of the Second World War. During the war he lived in London where he worked for the Ministry of Labour and backed the allied war effort. He was devoted to the establishment of a Socialist Hungary after the war and advocated an international exchange school of teachers and pupils once peace was established. He was concerned with the education of both adults and children and greatly favoured progressive education systems. Peto was a strong supporter of A S Neill and became involved with Summerhill School in 1944.

In the early post war years Peto took up photography as a career and was supported by fellow Hungarians Ervin Marton, artist and photographer, who provided technical instruction to develop his skills in photography and graphic art and his close friend the artist Josef Herman. He acquired a personal humanist style, seeking to record ‘the basic serenity of the human form’.

In 1949 he joined The Observer where he worked freelance for the Sunday Observer for 11 years, carrying out three Save the Children Fund assignments, including visits to India in 1951 and1967. His second month-long tour to India in 1967 was under the Cultural Activities Programme of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. He covered the elections for The Times and The Observer newspapers and also took photographs related to family planning in India. Among his personal friends were Pandit Nehru, the late Indian Prime Minister.

His photographs of India, taken during his Save the Children tours in 1951 and 1967, reflect the breadth of his travels. They include the politicians Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of Independent India, his daughter, later also Prime Minister, Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, Prime Minister of Kashmir. Others represented in the collection include fishermen of Kerala, Sikhs in Kashmir, villagers in Banares, and street salesmen in Delhi and Bombay and farmers in Kashmir and the Punjab. Many ordinary women and children, working men and the sacred cows of India are all included within this rich and varied collection.

The Michael Peto collection comprises 130,000 images including high-spirited slum children, tired ballet dancers at Covent Garden, a worn face in a street, proud miners, slender Indian peasants guiding their white oxen over a field in the blazing sun, Richard Burton, during the recording of Milk Wood and numerous other individuals, both well-known and nameless who caught his attention.

After his death on Christmas Day 1970 at the age of 62 his step-son, Michael Fodor, who was an accountancy student at the University of Dundee, and family donated his collection to the University. The collection is held by the University Archives in the Tower Building.

More information on Michael Peto and a wider selection of his photographs are available here.

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