Vintage photos reveal history of India, its neighbours

Vintage photos reveal history of India, its neighbours

Vintage photos reveal history of India, its neighbours

A scrutiny of 19th century photographic negatives brings into focus a series of Mughal gardens, which once existed between the majestic Taj Mahal and its neighbouring Agra Fort.

These negatives are a part of over 220 rare images, which include waxed-paper negatives of the first ever photographsof the Taj Mahal and the Vijayanagara empire, that are currently on exhibit here.

"The exhibition has the first ever photo negatives of the Taj, which I understand is also being shown for the first time in India. These negatives were studied by historian Abha Kaul who discovered the 50 Mughal gardens between Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort," says Dipali Khanna, Member Secretary, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.

IGNCA is hosting the exhibition "Drawn from Light", a photographic history of the country and also has early photographs of the Indian subcontinent including Nepal, Burma and Ceylon taken by British officers of the East India Company and later by other Europeans and local photographers.

Sourced from collection of a leading photography archive, the Alkazi Foundation, the display unveiled here late last evening is scheduled to go on till Septemeber 30.

Segmented into two categories - 'Bastions, Borders and Bridges' comprising landscape photographs and 'Statuesque Enthrallment' comprising portraitures - the display has been selected from a collection of 90,000 vintage photographs.

"We were looking at royal courts, early ethnographic photographers and traveling photographers. These are extremely researched collections", says Rahaab Allana, curator, Akazi Foundation.

The show has also pictures by a list of firsts.

There are photographs by Felice Beato, one of the first war photographers, Raja Deen Dayal, the first Indian court photographer and John Murray, the first photographer of Taj Mahal.

The exhibition, says Allana, "attempts to engage in academic pursuit of the idea of an archive and study how objects become repositories of meaning and power over the course of time."

Vintage pictures of the Bombay Harbor, the streets of Burra Bazar and hotels in Calcutta, horse drawn tram cars in Bombay's Bhendi Bazar and of coolies in Madras show the making of modern Indian metropolis.

Portraitures of the royal courts of Jaipur, Nepal, Burma as well as common people comprising Burmese priests, monks, the Lepcha women, Marathi women of Bombay among others can also be seen.

Apart from photographs, the exhibition also shows other visual developments simultaneously happening in the 19th century such as 'painted backdrops' being used in vernacular theaters and dance dramas, eventually made use by studio photographers.

The trend of 'painted photography'-- an amalgamation of photography and painting, a photograph was painted to change certain objects in the original photograph -- that was popular among the royalty is also showcased in the exhibition.

Photographs by Alexander Greenlaw taken of the ruins of the Vijayanagara empire is another highlight of the show.

"While the negatives of the Taj were studied by historian Abha Kaul, similarly the first time negative of Vijaynagar have been studied by renowned author George Michelle leading to the reinvigorated restoration activity on the site" says Khanna.

"The exhibition features the syncretic culture of the earliest of photography in South Asia. The areas investigated through the archival material looks at notions of identity, secularism, citizenship and a globalized view of South Asian heritage", says the show's curator Allana.

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