Eliot Elisofon was the photographer who took the pictures for Life Magazine‘s long article about Ramana Maharshi that appeared in May, 1949. He was was one of the most famous and accomplished Western photographers of his day, with notable achievements in other fields as well.
I’m old enough to remember Life Magazine in its heyday. It was a very big deal. To understand why, we have to remember that it existed in a world without television. Magazines were the main way that people saw things far from home; magazines occupied the place — shared it with radio, really — where television and the Internet stand today.
Life was a general-interest magazine for the broad public, but the article goes into surprising depth. It even gives instructions for performing Self-enquiry. In today’s terms, it’s like Oprah Winfrey inviting Ramana on her show — which I suppose she might do. (She’s the host of an extremely popular TV show in the US.)
I’m going to reproduce five of the stupendous photos that Elisofon took for the article. After the photos, there are a few links that might interest you.
The first photo is great because of the woman sitting front and center. The people around her have arranged themselves accidentally in a way that puts her in the spotlight. Look how relaxed her hands are, and look at her eyes! She stares straight at us, making the photo a sort of dialog, but nobody else in the room has any idea that this is happening. Our connection with this woman is like an open secret, something in plain view that nobody sees. The difference between this woman and all the rest (except the little girl who is also looking at us) is so great that the thought occurs to me that she wasn’t really there, that she was a supernatural being that only we can see thanks to the camera. I’m tempted to call her Mother Kali.
The light around Bhagavan’s head in the next photo seems to be a reflection from the headboard behind him. I think it’s a genuine part of the photo that was captured by the camera.
The boy in the lower right is V. Ganesan, Ramana’s grandnephew.
The next one shows Ramana’s younger brother Chinnaswami. He was the sarvadhikari (manager) of the ashram. I think this is tremendously good portrait. I feel like I see the man’s character in his face.