Collection of memories

Above the Jari Mari slum in Mumbai, India, a plane prepares for landing (2008) by Adam Ferguson.
Above the Jari Mari slum in Mumbai, India, a plane prepares for landing (2008) by Adam Ferguson.PHOTO: MAP
Serra Pelada, Gold Mine, Brazil (1986) by Sebastiao Salgado.
Serra Pelada, Gold Mine, Brazil (1986) by Sebastiao Salgado.PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE DEEPAK PURI COLLECTION
Lifting a dead son to carry him to a mass grave during the famine in Somalia (1992) by James Nachtwey.
Lifting a dead son to carry him to a mass grave during the famine in Somalia (1992) by James Nachtwey.PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE DEEPAK PURI COLLECTION
Portrait of Deepak Puri (1989) by Sebastiao Salgado.
Portrait of Deepak Puri (1989) by Sebastiao Salgado.PHOTO: MAP
Monsoon downpour in Delhi (1984) by Raghu Rai.
Monsoon downpour in Delhi (1984) by Raghu Rai.PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE DEEPAK PURI COLLECTION

Many of the prints were given to Deepak Puri, former photo editor of Time-Life News Service's South Asia bureau, by photographers out of respect and affection

Red handprints frame Australian photographer Stephen Dupont's 2001 photo of a woman wading through the waters during the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage that takes place every 12 years.

On it, Dupont - who for two decades has travelled the world, shooting for publications such as Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone - has scrawled a mock suicide note and fond words for Deepak Puri, the legendary general manager and photo editor of Time-Life News Service's South Asia bureau.

"A damn good bloke!" writes Dupont. "Thank you... would be an insult!"

His photo is one of more than a hundred that make up the Deepak Puri Collection, a stunning chronicle of defining moments and personalities from the past two decades.

And with most of the photos in the collection signed and addressed to Puri, they are also testament to his friendship with some of the biggest names in photojournalism, among them Sebastiao Salgado, Raghu Rai and Steve McCurry.

Puri, 63, this year donated most of the photos he has amassed over 25 years to the Museum of Art and Photography in Bangalore. The collection, which is travelling around India , can also be viewed online.

From war photographer James Nachtwey's sobering photos of the 1992 famine in Somalia to Diane Barker's 1997 photo of the Dalai Lama, hands clasped in deep meditation, his collection of photos used to plaster the walls of his Delhi office.

Puri, who retired seven years ago, says: "I remember very fondly the compliments paid by Steve McCurry, Jim Nachtwey and Raghu Rai during their visits to my office. They would say, 'Deepak, nobody in the world has this kind of photo collection. It is exclusive.'"

When Dupont stopped by in 2001, after covering the pilgrimage, he was amazed by the collection.

"He wanted to thank me for my help during his Kumbh assignment and offered me a couple of prints for my gallery," says Puri, who is married with two children. "I jokingly told him that if you want to see your photos hung here, then send your prints with a 'suicide note', which he literally did."


Kumbh Mela (2001) by Stephen Dupont. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE DEEPAK PURI COLLECTION

Puri has long been regarded by correspondents from all corners of the world - regardless of their publication - as fixer and handyman, mover and shaker, jetting photographers in and out of dangerous places, and winning their regard and fierce admiration.

When Salgado was stuck in the Congo looking for a helicopter ride, Puri made that happen.

In thanks, photojournalists would travel to Puri's office, offering up prints for his collection.

Loved for his generosity and perseverance, Puri says he had always hoped to make his collection public. And in the Museum of Art and Photography, he found a good and caring home.

He says simply: "I wanted to share my 20th-century archive of iconic photos with students and lovers of photography all over the world... My dream of sharing is fulfilled."

•View the Deepak Puri Collection online at deepakpuricollection.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Collection of memories'. Print Edition | Subscribe