Recognizing the need to enable Indian photographers to produce and share their work in their lifetime, the Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation has pledged an annual photography grant of INR 5,00,000 in Umrao Singh Sher-Gil’s name to encourage independent voices in photography.

Umrao Singh Sher-Gil’s (1870-1954) relationship with photography in his lifetime was a private affair — his principal subjects being his family and himself. He tended to be overshadowed by the emblematic presence of his daughter and artist, Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941). It was in 2007 that Umrao Singh was recognised as a photographer of considerable importance. His self-portraits span almost sixty years and make up a unique archive. He is now regarded as a pioneering figure of the mise-en-scène or staged photography in India.

Established in 2015, the Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Grant for Photography will recognise a photographer’s commitment to the ‘staged’ or ‘constructed’ image. Documentary photography projects using the idiom of the staged or constructed image will also be considered.

There is a distinction, albeit a fine one, between the ‘staged’ and the ‘constructed’ image. Regardless, both genres reflect on the transformative nature of the photograph in their relationship to reality.

The grant is intended to assist photographers who have started a project and need financial help to complete their work.


  • The grant is for photographers who are Indian nationals and residing in India.

  • There is no age limit for applicants to the grant.

  • The grant is for both individual photographers and collaborative projects.

  • The grant is for a photographer already working on a project. Therefore, the application must include photographic prints from the proposed project to complete which a grant is needed.
    See under Application Process.

  • Applicants to the grant must not hold any other fellowship/grant for the proposed work.

  • There is no limit to the number of times applicants may apply for the grant.

  • The applicant has to agree to finish his/her project within 18 months of receiving the grant.


Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, eldest son of Raja Surat Singh of Majithia, was born into the landed aristocracy of the Punjab. While his younger brother, Sunder Singh, was an industrialist and politician, Umrao Singh opted for the more contemplative life of a scholar. He spent a lifetime in the pursuit of knowledge; he was a Sanskrit and Persian scholar, and was interested in the philosophy of religion. He had a long-standing friendship with the poet Mohammed Iqbal and greatly admired the Russian humanist Leo Tolstoy. He was also fascinated by astronomy, loved carpentry and calligraphy, practised yoga, and had an abiding passion for photography.

Umrao Singh’s older daughter, Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941), was a pioneering artist and an emblematic figure in the history of pictorial modernism in India. Her talent, her beauty, her flamboyant personality, her cosmopolitan outlook and her sexual emancipation have made her something of a legend. Her presence was framed in a more literal sense by the photographic lens of her father. A serious amateur photographer, Umrao Singh focussed solely on his family and himself, unaware that he was pioneering the genre of the mise-en-scène that would be renewed by Indian photographers half a century later.

Umrao Singh’s preoccupation with photography was an intense and private affair. He printed his negatives, experimenting with toning formulae that master printers would employ. Over 2,500 vintage prints along with glass plates and film negatives have since survived. In 2001, his grandson, the artist Vivan Sundaram, made digital photomontages using Umrao Singh’s self-portraits and family portraits to create fictional narratives, and presented them as Retake of Amrita. In 2007, the first retrospective exhibition of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil’s vintage and modern prints (from glass plates and film negatives) was held at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in France and attracted critical attention across the globe. In 2008, this retrospective was exhibited at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi and Mumbai, India, in conjunction with a published monograph. A reclusive man, about whom little is still known, was finally acknowledged as a pioneering figure of the mise-en-scène in Indian photography.


Application Form

Application forms can be downloaded from here. There is no application fee. If you need any clarification or information about the Application Process, please email

Please use block/capital letters to fill in the application form and do not forget to sign the document. The filled in application form should be accompanied by the following:

Written Proposal

The written proposal detailing the photography project should be concise, not exceeding 500 words. It must clearly articulate the intentions of the photographer and should be realizable. It should outline the stage the project has reached and what is left to achieve. Clarity of thought about the project will be evaluated during the jury process.

Photographic Prints with Captions/Titles

Applicants must demonstrate evidence of their photographic ability by submitting 10 to 15 photographic prints, no larger than 8 x 12 inches each. Digital submissions/scanned images will not be considered. Applicants must submit a separate document that contains the following information about each image: caption/title, location, date.

About the Applicant

The applicant must submit a document, not exceeding 750 words, with his/her CV including details of past exhibitions, publications, grants/awards received.


Photographic Prints

The photographic prints must be labelled using a sticker on the reverse. The labels must carry the following information:

Name of applicant; Working Title of Project; Caption/Title of Photographic Print; Location; Date; Serial number/Order of sequence.


Name of applicant: Shan Bhattacharya

Working Title of Project: Portal

Caption/Title of Photographic Print: Untitled

Location: Kolkata

Date: 2013

Serial number/Order of sequence: 01


All written documents must be submitted in typed form (not handwritten) on A-4 sheets of paper.

Please send the application form and all submissions to:

Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation
c/o Vivan Sundaram
3/9 Shanti Niketan (ground floor)
New Delhi 110 021

No material will be returned unless accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with return postage.

SSAF is not responsible for loss of or damage to any submitted material.

The deadline for receipt of the completed application form and all submissions for the 2016 Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Grant for Photography is 15 December, 2016.



SSAF will independently administer the grant and jury process.

SSAF will appoint a three-member jury every year, which will include an international member of the photography fraternity.

The jury process will last three days. During the first two days, the jury will review all the applications and proposals, and shortlist 3 finalists – primarily on the basis of the substantive and intellectual merit of their project proposals. On the third day, the jury will review the 3 finalists and select the grant recipient, after weighing both the merit and needs of the project.

The grantee’s name will be announced on 22 December, 2016, at a reception organized by the SSAF and Goethe – Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan. The announcement will be shared via email and posted on the SSAF website.

Jury 2017

The members of the jury for the 2017 Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Grant for Photography are: Florian Ebner (Chair), Ravi Agarwal and Vivan Sundaram.

Florian Ebner (b.1970, Regensburg/Germany) has been head of the Photographic Collection at the Museum Folkwang, Essen, since the end of 2012. In 2015 he was curator of the German Pavillion at the Venice Biennial. From 2009 to 2012, he was director of the Museum für Photographie Braunschweig, and in 2008/9 he was in charge of the Photographic Collection at the Berlinische Galerie. Prior to that, he taught photography at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig, in Timm Rautert’s class amongst others. He has produced numerous exhibitions and publications on modernist and contemporary photography.

Ravi Agarwal (b.1958, New Delhi, India) is a photographer, environmentalist, writer and curator. His earlier work, in the documentary oeuvre, encompassed ‘work,’ ‘labour,’ and the ‘street.’ His practice now also includes performance photography, video/photo installations and public art, and explores questions of urbanization, ecology and society. He has exhibited widely, including at Documenta XI (2002) and the Sharjah Biennial (2013). Ravi is also the founder of the Indian environmental NGO Toxics Link.

Vivan Sundaram (b.1943, Shimla, India) studied painting in Baroda and London. Since 1990 he has made sculpture, installation, photography and video. He has exhibited in the Biennale’s of Sydney, Seville, Taipei, Sharjah, Shanghai, Havana, Johannesburg, Kwangju. Group exhibitions include Tate Modern, London, 2001, International Center for Photography, New York, 2008, Mori Museum, Tokyo, 2008, Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2006. His photographic work includes Sher-Gil Archive, 1994, Re-take of Amrita, 2001-02 and Trash, 2008.

The Jury Chair is supported by Goethe – Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan


Upon being informed that he/she has been selected to receive the grant, the grantee must affirm in writing that the proposed photography project is an ongoing project, and that it has not received any other grants/awards in the past. While this is a material condition of the application process itself, this additional confirmation in writing is expected by the SSAF.

The recipient of the grant must agree to complete his/her project within 18 months of receiving the first instalment of the grant. The grant will be provided in instalments, based on the submission of a budget.

The recipient of the grant must agree to have his/her project monitored/reviewed by the SSAF or its representative/s periodically.

On completion of the project, the recipient of the grant will provide SSAF with a set of 10 archival edition prints along with their digital files. The prints and the digital files will be archived for public viewing in the years to come. The grantee will also give permission to SSAF to reproduce the images for publicity and promotional use.