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Gupta, Sunil (b. 1953)  
 
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Celebrating his proud acknowledgment of his sexual orientation, Gupta made an extended series of photographs of gay men hanging out in the vicinity of Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Although not exhibited until recently, the photographs constitute a significant record of gay life in New York during the mid-1970s, and they also provide an early demonstration of Gupta's commitment to depicting gay life with honesty and dignity.

Imitating Lisette Model's practice, Gupta avoided contrived poses in the Christopher Street series and portrayed his subjects in a direct, straightforward way. Reflecting the confident mood of gay culture at that moment, many of the men look directly at Gupta's camera. Although the subjects are predominantly white, they differ significantly in age, social class, and physical attributes. In accord with photo conventions of the era, Gupta utilized black and white to emphasize the documentary realism of the images.

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Early Years in London

Returning to Montreal, Gupta continued his business studies until 1977 while he made plans to pursue a career in photography in London.

After completing a diploma program in Photography at the West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham, where he studied from 1978 to 1981, he earned his Master's degree in Photography at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London, where he studied from 1981 until 1983.

For his final year show at RCA, Gupta undertook a significant project, Tilonia, supported by a student award, which enabled him to travel back to India for the first time since his family had migrated to Canada. His subject, Tilonia, was an impoverished rural village, but Gupta did not want to depict the residents as objects of pity, as a Western documentary photographer might have. Therefore, he made his images with color film, rather than black and white, which was conventionally employed in the era to dramatize the suffering of Third World subjects.

Because he spent several months getting to know residents before beginning to photograph them, he was able to produce images that represented individuals as distinct personalities, seen in the contexts of their daily lives. In arranging his exhibition at Commonwealth Institute, London, Gupta depended primarily on supplementary documentation to explain the difficult economic circumstances of the community. Although reviewers criticized his lack of emphasis upon the poverty of Tilonia, Gupta resolved that he would continue to depict minority subjects with dignity.

After earning his M. A. in 1983, Gupta returned to Canada for a few months, while he successfully applied for permanent residency in the United Kingdom. He returned to London before the end of the year.

Until the early 1990s, Gupta depended for income primarily upon freelance work for news media, supplemented by occasional part-time teaching jobs. According to him, the need to convince busy picture editors to buy his work sharpened the skills that he needed to produce immediately effective images. He devoted whatever "spare" time he had to his independent artwork and to cultural activism.

Ten Years On, 1984

Gupta had decided to attend art school in England and to live there at least partly because he wanted to be with a man with whom he had fallen in love. Therefore, he was deeply distressed when their partnership came to an end in 1984, after ten years. In the hope of discovering the keys to a successful, long-term gay relationship, Gupta decided to meet and photograph gay couples who had been together at least ten years.

For this project, he photographed approximately 35 couples, primarily West London residents, whom he met through various social contacts. Gupta came to realize that gay relationships are too diverse to permit a simple checklist of factors guaranteeing success. However, he succeeded in identifying partners who had made a strong commitment to one another.

Utilizing black and white film, Gupta photographed the couples in their home environments in a straightforward "documentary" fashion. While respecting the privacy of his subjects, he managed to capture their distinctive personalities.

With the current emphasis on same-sex marriage, it may now be hard to realize how innovative Ten Years On was. These portrayals of gay men in the context of emotionally grounding relationships challenged prevalent visualizations of gay men in terms of their sexuality, while often ignoring other aspects of their humanity.

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