Posts Tagged ‘Portrait of a young tea seller

17
Jul
22

Photographs: Images of Mongolian noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century (1910s-1920s)

July 2022

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man with cut-out pedestal]' 1910s-1920s

 

1. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man with cut-out pedestal]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

 

Rendering the past and the presence, shaping history and memory

These fascinating glass plate negatives from Mongolia have been saved for prosperity by the Endangered Archives Programme which “seeks to preserve cultural heritage and make it available to as wide an audience as possible… [The programme] primarily funds digitisation projects to record and preserve the content of archives. Our projects create digital material in a format that facilitates long-term preservation, and at least two copies of these are stored: a primary copy that remains at an appropriate repository in the country of origin, and a secondary copy held at the British Library… The EAP website provides access to these digital collections for research, education and enjoyment. We do not however distribute high resolution, print quality versions of images, referring requests for these back to the original holders of the archive. We also seek to ensure that the values of the people and communities from which the archives have come are respected and that they are consulted in any significant re-use of the digital material.”1

While the outcomes of the project are noble and valuable, in effect, these photographs will remain buried in the archive on the British Library website unless someone is specifically undertaking focused research on the history of Mongolian photography. I tried to contact the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia to use the images but got no reply. Thus, I use the images under fair use conditions for the purposes of education and research in order that a wider range of people around the world will actually get to see and appreciate them.

I have digitally cleaned all of the images to remove scratches and dust spots to present them to the best of their advantage. I wanted to know what size the glass plate negatives are but not even this information is included on the British Library website. No information on the image makers is available … but they were probably photographers making a living travelling from town to town taking portraits of local families, carrying their painted canvas backdrops applied to collapsible boards with them.

 

Images 1-18

The most interesting group of images in this posting are from one session which I have grouped in numbers 1-18 below. I have only a small idea in which order these photographs were taken. The time on the alarm clock is indistinguishable in some of the photographs and in others jumps from 12.55pm to 2.55pm to 4.35pm to 4.45pm. If we assume that the alarm clock was working during the portrait session (it could have been broken and manually changed to different positions), then this would indicate that the photoshoot took place over the course of one afternoon. What we do know is that these photographs were all taken in one location in one sitting and are of one extended family or village group wearing their finest clothes, posed in a portable, constructed studio setting.

In image number 1 (above) a man stands in front of a painted canvas backdrop of an effusive, rococo-style scene with window, acanthus decorated columns, heavy curtains decorated with tassels and profuse carved wood work. We can see the edge of the backdrop boards to the right of the man and also observe the piece of wire or rope which is holding them up at top right. The “set” or mise-en-scène (the stage of a theatrical production or the setting or surroundings of an event) is inside a house (not a traditional portable, round tent covered with skins or felt which in Mongolia is called a ger), for at right we can see wallpaper on the wall of the house. There are bare wooden floorboards covered in a patterned carpet with circular motifs and to the right is a bentwood chair. The man stands behind a prop – a probably wooden, cut-out decorated column – looking off camera with an air of authority. He is the only person in the twelve images that is so positioned (behind a column). He is probably a leader of the village and / or head of the household.

In image 2 a man sits on a chair on the same carpet with his hands on his knees staring straight into the camera lens. In his right hand is a set of prayer beads possibly made from mala seeds. The bentwood chair has been replaced to the right hand side with a more sturdy looking chair. In image 3 two men sit on chairs on the same carpet with a table between them, staring directly at the camera. Both men have their hands on their knees and one holds some prayer beads. They are probably father and son. On the table are what I think are prized possessions of the family and / or village: two decorated vases and what would have been a rare and valuable object in 1910s-1920s Mongolia, an alarm clock with bell. The vases, alarm clock and later, teapot, cups and saucers – the cups with handles, a very Western influence as tea in Mongolia was usually drunk in cups without handles2 – are a recurring presence in these photographs, perhaps signifying the status of the family being photographed.

Image number 4 shows a standing man and a women, possibly husband and wife, staring directly at the camera. The same two vases and clock are present on the table between them, but this time the table has been covered in an elaborately decorated tablecloth. Notice how the length of women’s sleeves completely cover her hands by some distance. The same carpet is present on the floor as it is in image number 5. In this fifth image the photographer has moved the couple, again probably husband and wife, along the backdrop so that the painted column appears directly between them above the more prominently displayed table, covered with the same tablecloth. Now there is only one vase displayed, directly behind the same alarm clock. Again, note the length of both male and female sleeves on their costumes, completely covering their hands by a long way.3 The relocation of the couple has cropped the window out of frame to the right, while the bentwood chair now makes a reappearance.

In image number 6 the photographer turns the camera horizontally and pulls back from the subjects to capture a family group, possibly a mother at second left accompanied by her two sons and daughter. All participants stand front on to the camera and stare directly into the camera lens but it is interesting to note the body language of the group: the men stand rigid and stiff, one with his hand on his hip, while the mother sways to her right and the daughter leans to her left, both unsure of the process of being photographed and the final outcome of the photograph. The same carpet is on the floor and two bentwood chairs are now to the right.

In the vertical image number 7 the photographer has moved forward to produce a more tightly cropped photograph, placing the two men directly in front of the table obscuring it and the vase (which can just be seen behind the men) from view. He (for undoubtedly at this time the photographer would have been a man) has also replaced the large carpet with a small carpet with diagonal decoration as its border, isolating the men so that they seem to float above the bare wooden floorboards. The man at right stares off camera to somewhere behind and to the left of the camera, while the man at left stares with disdain and a sense of defiance directly at the camera.

In image number 8 the photographer retains the closer perspective but moves nearer again, titling the camera down to observe the seated man (notice how the window at top right has been cropped from the previous image). Here the photographer balances the composition left to right using the prominent position of table, vases and alarm clock to offset the form of the seated man who stares straight at the camera. The carpet is the same as in the seventh image with its diagonal border, but this time you can see the profuse inner geometric pattern of dark and light shapes. In the family group which is image 9, the photographer has turned the camera horizontally so as to fit in the subjects of his composition, retaining the carpet with the diagonal edge decoration and light and dark inner shapes from the previous image. The not happy child holds her mother’s hand, the woman in the traditional noble headdress of the married Khalkha upper class women, a special hairstyle designed to mimic cow’s horns or, in another version, the wings of a mythical bird. “The basis of [the headdress] is a small silver cap with filigree, to which numerous silver, coral or turquoise ornaments are attached. The combed back hair is divided into two parts and formed into the “horns” with the help of several silver or bamboo pins. The lower part of the strands is braided in plaits. Rich women allow themselves to further decorate this part of the hair: the plaits are put into embroidered brocade covers with rows of coral and silver bands. For special events or for travelling a pointed hat (malagay) which looks like a crown is worn over the small cap. The hat is usually made of velvet and has colourful ribbons attached at the back. The top is sometimes decorated with a big coral or other stone.”4

In image number 10 the photographer has moved the group of men, possibly a seated father (or grandfather?) and his standing sons, much further down the painted backdrop completely cropping out the painted window. On the floor is the original carpet in image 1. All men stare directly at the camera with the seated father slightly in front of his sons. In image 11, the original carpet has been replaced by the second carpet which was seen in the ninth image, the one with the diagonal border. The background is in roughly the same position as can be seen when you compare the column behind the left hand figure in both photographs and the camera is at the same height… but the background must have been physically moved, because the roof support in image 10 is now much more to the left in image 11. In the latter image, the covered table, vases and alarm clock take pride of place, front and centre, with the three men standing to the side and behind the table. Two stare directly at the camera, whilst the other at right stands obliquely to the picture plane and stares off camera to the left. Such positioning of the figures suggests that the photographer had a knowledge of the poses of classical group portraiture and portrait photography in particular. Further, as we can observe in these photographs, “the portrait functioned as an extension of the ceremonies and rituals of daily life. Self-representation was now a major aspect of social life, because it could pave the way to obtaining a place of honor.”5 These photographs also function as a place where the intimacy and narrative of family life were exposed to the public eye, where private becomes public, and in the mise-en-scène of the stage-set the actors were posed to create a theatrical, representative view of how they wanted to see themselves – and how others should see them. This is a scene constructed explicitly for the portrait to … render present, to re-present the presence of the people themselves. And in the posing, directed by the photographer, the subjects assume the shape of a desired representation.

Image 12 is the only photograph in the group of twelve images taken indoors that features a woman on her own. Dressed in all her finery and wearing her traditional headdress the seated woman is posed frontally and stares straight at the camera, her hand lightly resting on her inner thighs. Behind her the column of the painted backdrop that was seen behind the man at left in the eleventh image is now directly behind her head and more of the backdrop has been recorded at her right: flowers, a lush garden with stairs and bannister railing, and a heavy brocade curtain with numerous tassels. The camera has again moved closer to the subject for the edge of the diagonally decorated carpet now appears at the bottom of the image with no floorboards being visible, whilst the top of the image has been framed just at the top of the painted backdrop. The revelatio of the pulled back curtain reveals a wished for, Western, utopian landscape, a paradise reached by the woman in all her finery on her magic carpet.

And the carpet truly does fly!

In image 13 the carpet has been moved down a set of steps onto the bare earth in front of a house with the table, and a different tablecloth, for company. The mise-en-scène is now a simple backdrop of a piece of white fabric which has been pinned by the photographer to the railing of the house – prescient of the work of photographer Richard Avedon and his series In the American West with similar frontal stance and direct gaze of the sitter (see below), although this anonymous photographer never closes in on the subject to fully isolate the subject against the white ground as happens in much conceptual, contemporary portrait photography. What the photographer does do over the remaining images (14-18) is move the camera forward and backward in order to frame his subject(s), changing the camera’s orientation for larger groups.

In image 14 the photographer has moved forward so as to more tightly crop the image: there is no earth and less of the window behind is visible; the same alarm clock as in previous images has made a reappearance. Image 15 is even more tightly cropped, with no carpet and even less window being visible… the alarm clock has been lost and now the sitter is positioned to the left of the table as opposed to image 14 when they were to the right. In image 16 (observe the bare table) and 17, the photographer has moved the camera around another side of the building: note the mud-caked wooden logs, part of the structure of the bottom of the house, the lack of railing and strong sun causing shadows to fall on the wall behind. In previous images (13-15) there is no shadow for the sitters were not in direct sunlight. In the final image, image 18, the photographer has moved the camera again to another wall of the house, this time to a backdrop of a cracked, bare earth wall with the carpet and table placed on the barren ground. In all of these portrait photographs the subject stares impassively at the camera.

In whatever “order” these photographs were taken, through analysis we can begin to see, and feel, and imagine, the choreographic dance that the photographer would have had to go through to capture the likeness of his sitters. We can imagine the cacophony of sound, the instructions to set up backdrops, to move the camera, to arrange the people (after they had dressed in their finest clothes) and extras (such as the table, tablecloth, alarm clock, vases and carpets) for each photograph – for the photographer to capture the person in perfect stillness, order out of the disorder. This dis/order is doubled by the storage of these photographs in an archive, that of the Endangered Archives Programme, where everything is supposedly kept in order but where, “Archives contain elements of truth and error, order and disorder and are infinitely fascinating. As both collections of records and repositories of data, archives are able to shape history and memory depending on how, when and by whom the materials are accessed. Their vastness allows for multiple readings to be unravelled over time.”6

And that is my hope for these images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century. That other people approach the material from different perspectives, different points of view, whether they be artistic, ethnographic, fashion, or Indigenous for example – that they also critique the ideas and systems of archives in order to understand why these images are in an archive, how they can be more freely distributed and studied, and what is their ongoing relevance to the history and culture of contemporary Mongolia. As with the posed photographs of Edward Curtis and his portrayal of The North American Indian, these photographs may “show us today some things that we may no longer have access to and give us a window into eyes of real human beings who were in the process of losing the lives they had known for centuries.”7

Time moves on, cultures change (today Mongolians wear Western clothes and only don traditional clothes for festivals and special events; in the winter they wear a Russian-style fur hat and padded jacket), technology and development take over… but these photographs still give us an important window into the soul of a people.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 2,777

 

Footnotes

  1. Anonymous text. “Preservation through digitisation of rare photographic negatives from Mongolia (EAP264),” on the British Library Endangered Archives Programme website Nd [Online] Cited 13/06/2022
  2. Mongolian tea called suutei tsai is served with nearly every meal. The tea is served in small bowls as opposed to cups. The tea is made with green tea, milk, water and salt.
  3. “Both men and women wear “dels” (caftan-like, ankle-length padded silk robes lined with sheepskin for the winter and tied around the waist with a sashlike belt) in the winter and a “terlig” (thinly-lined coat similar to a del) in the summer… Dels are designed for horseback riding, keeping riders warm while not constraining them. They have high collars that can be buttoned or unbuttoned. The left side buttons close over the right side. The edges of the coat and sleeves are sometimes trimmed with velvet of another beautiful fabric. Sometimes a long sash or leather belt adorned with silver or copper ornaments is tied around the waist. Under theirs dels, Mongolians generally wear baggy trousers and a shirt…
    Men and women wear “Mongol gutal” (embroidered leather knee boots with thick soles and upturned toes). There are several explanations as to why the boots are made in this way. Some say they give riders confidence that they won’t slip from the stirrups. Other says that Buddhism is the reason: the upturned toes are said to be less likely to kill insects than conventional footwear. In the winter felt is placed in them for extra warmth…
    Headgear is often an indicator of where someone is from. Mongolia men sometimes don “loovus” (pointed hats) on feast days or weddings or other important occasions. These have traditionally been made of wolf or fox skin and are said offer good protection in the cold and wind. Other types of men’s hat include the “janjin malgai” and “toortsog”…
    Men used to wear their hair pulled back in a braid. Women wore theirs in two braids covered with velvet. The braids were worn in front of the shoulders and silver and coral ornaments were woven into them. Young girls wore multi braids joined at the temple with red thread…
    In the old days upper class women wore elaborate headdresses and sculpted the hair in bizarre horn-like designs with hardened mutton fat and tied their hair with jewellery pieces made of silver, turquoise and coral… During festivals, even some nomads wore their hair in massive headdresses, decorated with silver and coral, or tied their hair with large bows. A family’s wealth was often measured by precious stones and metals in a woman’s hair.”
    Text from various sources quoted in “Mongolian clothes: Beauty and Hygiene in Mongolia,” on the Facts and Details website, last updated April 2016 [Online] Cited 17/07/2022. For more information on traditional Mongolian dress please see this website
  4. Anonymous text. “Traditional headdresses of the Mongolian women,” on the Local Style website, 17/01/2013 [Online] Cited 07/07/2022
  5. Guillaume Blanc. “A History of Portrait Photography, Part I,” on the Blind Magazine website Nd [Online] Cited 05/07/2022
  6. Anonymous text. “Order and Disorder: Archives and Photography,” on the National Gallery of Victoria website [Online] Cited 17/07/2022
  7. Executive Director Shannon Keller O’Loughlin (Choctaw) of the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA). Email to the author, 1 June 2018 [Online] Cited 17/07/2022

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images are used under “fair use” conditions for the purpose of education and research and remain the copyright of the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia.

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

2. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian men]' 1910s-1920s

 

3. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

The time on the alarm clock is indistinguishable.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman and man]' 1910s-1920s

 

4. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman and man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

The time on the alarm clock is 4.45pm.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man and woman]' 1910s-1920s

 

5. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man and woman]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

The time on the alarm clock is 4.45pm.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian men and two Mongolian women]' 1910s-1920s

 

6. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Two Mongolian men and two Mongolian women]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian men]' 1910s-1920s

 

7. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Two Mongolian men]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man with cut-out pedestal]' 1910s-1920s

 

8. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

The time on the alarm clock is 12.55pm.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian men, two Mongolian women and a child]' 1910s-1920s

 

9. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Two Mongolian men, two Mongolian women and a child]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Three Mongolian men]' 1910s-1920s

 

10. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Three Mongolian men]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Three Mongolian men]' 1910s-1920s

 

11. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Three Mongolian men]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

The time on the alarm clock is 2.55pm.

 

Lady Hawarden. 'Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study' c. 1862-1863

 

Lady Clementina Hawarden (Viscountess, British 1822-1865)
Clementina Maude, 5 Princes Gardens; Photographic Study
c. 1862-1863
Albumen print; Sepia photograph mounted on green card
21.6 x 23.2cm
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Note the table with prominent fabric embroidery(?) pattern

 

 

Lady Clementina Hawarden, a noted amateur photographer of the 1860s, frequently photographed her children. Here, her second-eldest daughter Clementina Maude poses next to a mirror, in  which a bulky camera is reflected. The camera  seems to stand in for the photographer, making  this a mother-daughter portrait of sorts.

This photograph gives a good idea of Lady Hawarden’s studio and the way she used it. It was situated on the second floor of her house at 5 Princes Gardens in the South Kensington area of London. Here her daughter Clementina poses beside a mirror. A movable screen has been placed behind it, across the opening into the next room. A side table at the left balances a desk at the right. The figure of the young girl is partially balanced and echoed by the camera reflected in the mirror and the embroidery resting on the table beside it.

Hawarden appears to have worked with seven different cameras. The one seen in the mirror is the largest. Possibly there is a slight suggestion of a hand in the act of removing and/or replacing the lens cap to begin and end the exposure.

Text from the V&A website

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman]' 1910s-1920s

 

12. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman and table]' 1910s-1920s

 

13. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman and table]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman and table]' 1910s-1920s

 

14. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman and table]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

The time on the alarm clock is 4.35pm.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman and table]' 1910s-1920s

 

15. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman and table]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Richard Avedon at work

 

Richard Avedon at work

 

Richard Avedon. 'Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980' 1980

 

Richard Avedon (American, 1923-2004)
Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980
1980
Gelatin silver print

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman and table]' 1910s-1920s

 

16. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman and table]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Three Mongolian women and two Mongolian men]' 1910s-1920s

 

17. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Three Mongolian women and two Mongolian men]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

The time on the alarm clock is indistinguishable.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian women and table]' 1910s-1920s

 

18. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Two Mongolian women and table]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Notice the length of the sleeves which completely cover the hands by some distance.

 

 

Mongolia at the start of the 20th century was agrarian, and its people were highly stratified socially and economically. There were two classes of vassals: the khamjlaga, who under Manchu law were serfs for life of the local nobility and civil administrators; and the shavi, the vassals of the monastery estates. Trade in essentials like tea, rice, and tobacco was in the hands of Chinese companies, which willingly extended credit at high interest rates. The currency consisted of units of livestock, as well as tea bricks, small silver ingots, and some foreign coins. When the officials and nobility got into debt, the would increase their taxes in kind on the population. As a result, many Mongols were impoverished and occasionally rebellious, despite the risk of terrible punishment at the hands of the Qing authorities, who had built fortified administrative centres and garrison towns like Khovd and Uliastai to control Mongolia’s regions.

By 1911, when the Chinese Revolution broke out, unrest was widespread in Mongolia. In December the Manchu amban was ordered to leave, the Javzandamba was proclaimed the Bogd Khan (“Holy King”), and he declared the independence of Mongolia – Inner Mongolia and Tannu Tuva (Tyva), as well as Outer Mongolia. Also at that time, the Bogd Khan’s capital, Ikh Khüree (“Great Monastery”), was renamed Niislel Khüree (“Capital Monastery”). The Qing emperor abdicated in 1912, and the Republic of China was proclaimed.

Also that year Russia signed a treaty with the Bogd Khan’s government that recognized Mongolia, although the interpretation of this recognition between the two parties differed: Mongolia considered itself independent of China, while Russia characterized Mongolia as being “autonomous.” The Russian position was further underlined in 1913, when Russia and China issued a declaration stating that Mongolia was still under Chinese suzerainty. Mongolia objected, but this status was reinforced by a joint Russian-Chinese-Mongolian treaty in 1915, in which the Bogd Khan’s government was obliged to accept autonomy under Chinese suzerainty. As a result, the Bogd Khan was unable to unite Inner with Outer Mongolia, nor was he able to prevent Russia from colonizing Tuva.

Soviet power was established in St. Petersburg following the Russian Revolution of 1917, and it gradually was extended eastward across Russia. In August 1919 the Soviet Russian government recognized Mongolian autonomy, but within a few months Chinese troops had occupied Niislel Khüree and deposed the Bogd Khan. During that turbulent period, Mongolian nationalists Dansrangiin Dogsom, Dogsomyn Bodoo, and others formed underground resistance groups and established contact with Russian Bolsheviks.

In June 1920 a group of these revolutionaries formed the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP), and two months later several MPP members, including Soliin Danzan and Dambdyn Chagdarjav, were sent to Moscow to seek help from the Comintern (Third International) and to meet Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilich Lenin. Two other revolutionaries, Damdiny Sükhbaatar and Khorloogiin Choibalsan, who had stayed in Siberia in the city of Irkutsk, made their way to the small town of Troitskosavsk on the border with Mongolia to organize the resistance. Meanwhile, tsarist cavalry units under the command of Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg (known as the “Mad Baron”) entered Mongolia from eastern Siberia, advanced on Niislel Khüree, drove out the Chinese occupation forces, and in February 1921 restored the Bogd Khan to the throne under the baron’s control.

The rule of the Mad Baron was cruel and bloody but relatively brief. In March 1921 the Mongolian revolutionaries gathered in Troitskosavsk and held the first MPP congress, where they adopted a program of action and appointed a provisional cabinet. A Mongolian revolutionary force was assembled under Sükhbaatar’s command that, along with Soviet army units, advanced southward into Mongolia and in July 1921 captured Niislel Khüree. A “people’s government” of Mongolia was appointed, with Bodoo as prime minister, and July 11 subsequently was celebrated as the anniversary of its establishment (now the first day of the naadam sports festival). The Bogd Khan was reinstated as a constitutional monarch with limited powers. The baron was captured in August, handed over to the Soviet authorities, and executed. In November Danzan and Sükhbaatar were sent to Moscow to meet Lenin, and the first Mongolian-Soviet treaty was concluded.

Julia Chandler (ed.,). Colonial and Postcolonial East and Southeast Asia. Britannica Educational Publishing, 2017, pp. 104-109.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

19. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Notice the long time exposure of the camera, indicated by the blur of the man’s dress at lower left.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

20. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian men with two vases]' 1910s-1920s

 

21. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Two Mongolian men with two vases]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Again, not the length of the sleeves which completely cover the hands.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man with two vases and clock]' 1910s-1920s

 

22. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man with two vases and clock]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman with clock]' 1910s-1920s

 

23. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman with clock]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Four Mongolian men]' 1910s-1920s

 

24. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Four Mongolian men]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian men]' 1910s-1920s

 

25. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Two Mongolian men]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Not the same painted backdrop as image 24.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian men with two clocks]' 1910s-1920s

 

26. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Two Mongolian men with two clocks]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

 

Preservation through digitisation of rare photographic negatives from Mongolia (EAP264)

Aims and objectives

The Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording in Mongolia houses over 160,000 photo negatives, including 10,552 glass plate negatives. This project aims to digitise all these glass plate negatives, the majority of which contain images taken between 1921 and 1945 and have never been printed. The collection covers a wide range of topics such as the army and military, public health, animal husbandry, archaeological finds, nature, prominent Mongolian people, people who were politically repressed during the 1930s, historical documents, construction works, industrial development, Mongolia’s contribution to the victory of WWII, culture, religion and politics.

The collection is housed in the Archives building, which has no adequate and controlled preservation environment and lacks humidity and air control. The glass plates are kept in paper envelopes on shelves where they are exposed to physical mishandling and deterioration in image quality. Only 3,000 have been catalogued. Since no digital images are available to researchers and the general public, these glass plates are in danger of being exposed to frequent printing which represents a threat to the physical condition of the originals themselves. Once degraded in quality or destroyed due to frequent printing and mishandling, this unique pre-industrialised history of Mongolia will be lost for ever.

As the originals will eventually be too fragile for frequent handling, the only way of preserving and providing access to users of this valuable collection is through digitisation. The remaining 7,000 glass plates will also be catalogued. Training schemes will be developed to preserve and further restore archival photographs and the introduction of this digital archive will inspire the Archives, the MSV Foundation and other individuals to carry out further projects to help preserve and digitise the remaining archival holdings.

 

Outcomes

Research and a visual inspection have been carried out on over 7,000 uncatalogued “orphan” glass negative plates and a bulk of them have been cleaned from dirt, dust and paints.

A total of 10,089 glass negative plates have been digitised. Uncatalogued digitised images have been sorted out either into existing or new collections of the Archives thus enriching its catalogued photographic contents.

Some Archives’ staff have received professional training in digitising technology as well as in digital archives handling. The successful implementation of the project serves to testify that cooperation between the Archives and other national cultural bodies, including MSV Foundation, is vital for the future in preserving and restoring the Archives’ stocks.

This has been the first ever major project funded by foreign institutions and a great challenge for the MSV Foundation. It is considered that the project has been a great success which will certainly add to the good reputation of the Foundation locally.

Thanks to the project, the MSV Foundation will be able to bring more and more historic film and photographic enthusiasts closer together in safeguarding the nation’s cinematographic and photographic heritage.

The original glass negative plates are still housed in the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording. Digital copies have been deposited with the Archives, MSV Foundation and the British Library.

Anonymous text. “Preservation through digitisation of rare photographic negatives from Mongolia (EAP264),” on the British Library Endangered Archives Programme website Nd [Online] Cited 13/06/2022

 

Unknown photographer. 'Prince Navaantseren of Tsetsen Khanate – one of the four Khanates of the Khalha (Outer Mongolia excluding three Durvut banners) Mongolia' 1910s

 

27. Unknown photographer
Prince Navaantseren of Tsetsen Khanate – one of the four Khanates of the Khalha (Outer Mongolia excluding three Durvut banners) Mongolia
1910s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

28. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Note the same carpet as image 27… taken at the same photo session

 

Michael J Drew (1873-1943) 'Group taking tea in a garden' between 1890 and 1900

 

Michael J Drew (Australian, 1873-1943)
Group taking tea in a garden

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945) '[Tea on the verandah]' c. 1900

 

James Fox Barnard (Australian, 1874-1945)
[Tea on the verandah]
c. 1900

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

29. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Note the same carpet as image 27… taken at the same photo session

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man with two teacups and saucers]' 1910s-1920s

 

30. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man with two teacups and saucers]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Two Mongolian women]' 1910s-1920s

 

31. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Two Mongolian women]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman]' 1910s-1920s

 

32. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman]' 1910s-1920s

 

33. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

34. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

35. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Note the same carpet as image 34… taken at the same photo session

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

36. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Note the same carpet as image 34… taken at the same photo session

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian man]' 1910s-1920s

 

37. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian man]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman with clock and flowers]' 1910s-1920s

 

38. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman with clock and flowers]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman with two children]' 1910s-1920s

 

39. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman with two children]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman]' 1910s-1920s

 

40. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman and child]' 1910s-1920s

 

41. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman and child]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman]' 1910s-1920s

 

42. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman]' 1910s-1920s

 

43. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Mongolian woman]' 1910s-1920s

 

44. Unknown photographer
Untitled [Mongolian woman]
1910s-1920s
Glass plate negative
The original material is held by the Archives for Cinema, Photography and Sound Recording, Mongolia
From Images of noblemen and noblewomen of early 20th century [1910s-1920s], British Library, Endangered Archives Programme EAP264/1/8/2
https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP264-1-8-2

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Portrait of a young tea seller) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1987

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Portrait of a young tea seller) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1987

 

 

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13
Mar
22

Review: ‘Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 17th December 2021 – 20th March 2022

Curator: Nathaniel Gaskell

Artists: Darogah Abbas Ali, Indu Antony, Felice Beato, Mitter Bedi, Jyoti Bhatt, Bourne & Shepherd, Samuel Bourne, Michael Bühler-Rose, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chunni Lall & Co., Lala Deen Dayal, Francis Frith & Co., Gauri Gill, Khubiram Gopilal, Hamilton Studios Ltd, Johnston and Hoffmann, Willoughby Wallace Hooper, William Johnson, John William Kaye and John Forbes Watson, Karen Knorr, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Steve McCurry, Saché & Murray Studios, Pushpamala N with Clare ARNI, Nicolas & Company (attributed), Norman Parkinson, Anoli Perera, Suresh Punjabi, Marc Riboud, John Edward Saché, Charles Scott, Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur, Edward Taurines (attributed), Waswo X Waswo, Wiele and Klein Studio, Wilson Studios Bombay

 

 

Installation view of the opening of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the opening of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the Johnston & Hoffman photograph Maharaja Sir Bhagwati Prasad Singh (1915, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne is at one and the same time, a fascinating, stimulating, frustrating, uplifting – and a little sad – overview of the history of the photography of India. I won’t say the history of Indian photography because most of the historical photographs are taken by European studios in India, and even an equal amount of the mid-twentieth century and contemporary photographs are taken by non-Indian born photographers residing in India or elsewhere. The title Visions of India is, therefore, undeniably apt – the exhibition being as much about how foreigners view the Indian continent, culture and people as how Indians picture themselves.

The fascinating, stimulating and sad elements of the exhibition are the “presence” of the historical photographs. These photographs range from the European architectural documentation of Indian temples through European colonial-ethnographic images which document Indian ethnic “types” – in the case of William Johnson montaging ethnic group portraits taken in the studio with appropriate views of actual buildings and scenes to picture oriental races and tribes – to European and Indigenous Indian photographers and ruling Indian princes’ photographs of themselves and their courtesans … taken in the European manner.

John Falconer in his book 2018 book Under Indian Skies: 19th-Century Photographs from a Private Collection observes, “A number of India’s princes became deeply interested in photography and both practiced and collected it, several also retaining state photographers… The portraiture of Indian royalty also proved a popular genre. Portraits posed in the setting of the European studio, but celebrating an oriental luxury of costume, jewellery and other accoutrements, were commissioned not only by rulers themselves but were also collected by Western customers, as the contents of many collections attest.”1

But by whoever they were taken – European photographer, Indian photographer or royal prince – these photographs are always taken from a position of power and authority by a male, either to reinforce through the male gaze their own splendour or to document their personal chattels, the tangible goods that they owned. For example, while texts by Mrinalini Venkateswaran (below) and Aparna Andhare argue that the photographs of Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur are adept at revealing himself through his self-portraits “as a thoughtful person who intuitively understood the power of iconography and images,”2 and that he was adept at capturing the personalities of the heavily veiled inner circle of the zenana of the royal household, “that he was able to connect with, and portray, his sitters as individuals rather than ‘types'”2 (at a time when the women lived almost entirely out of public view) … these observations belie the fact that it was he, the ruler, that found them “fit” subjects to be sitters.

And this is what I find particularly sad about these particular photographs – I don’t feel their personalities but I feel their pain. I look at their body language, the demurely clasped hands, the “dead” eyes as they stare at the camera (except one older women who stares defiantly), and the timidity of the body posture… some almost seem to cringe from the camera’s gaze, others look so alone and sad, as though they would wish to be anywhere but subject to (t)his intimidatory gaze – of the camera and the man. It’s disturbing, this feeling of vulnerability and betrayal, when compared to the majesty of Lala Deen Dayal’s photographs, his portrayal of male royal opulence and self-importance.

Pertaining to the Indigenous Indian uptake of photography John Falconer observes that, “[Samuel] Bourne may have viewed the western technology of the camera as yet another symbol of the dominance of European culture, but Indians had lost no time in embracing the new medium. Bourne himself had noted that Indian studios were not uncommon in the Calcutta of the early 1860s. But documentary evidence relating to the growth of an Indigenous photographic culture in India is at present frustratingly limited and has not been investigated with the same rigour as more easily accessible Western records. Even so, it is clear that photography was quickly taken up be sections of the Indian population, in general those who were in a position to associate with European society. …

The only Indian studio whose work has received similar attention and acclamation to that given to European contemporaries is that of Lala Deen Dayal. The success of the Dayal studio is comparable to that achieved by his English counterpart Bourne and Shepherd… The attention paid to Deen Dayal in recent years and his status as an Indian icon stands in marked contrast to the dearth of information available on the work of equally interesting contemporaries.”3

It is unclear in the essay in the book Under Indian Skies: 19th-Century Photographs from a Private Collection from where this information and research has been gathered, as few Indian sources are quoted in the footnotes. While I am no expert on Indigenous Indian photography, it would seem logical that non-European research has been undertaken into historical, home grown photographic studios and published in the Indian, and not English, language. Perhaps the observations can be seen as another example of the ongoing Western-centric view of historical photographs of India.

.
We then move onto the frustrating element of the exhibition, the contemporary photographs. As many of you may know I am not a great fan of contemporary photography but there is some focused, too focused, work on view. The frustrating element of the contemporary smorgasbord is the constant devolution of subject matter, the constant deconstruction of the (historical) minutiae of India – the small, precise, or trivial details of something – in which we never get a feeling for the personality of the Indian country or its people. The contemporary photographs are all about snippets, fragments, and traces of then and now, as though contemporary India is only ever constructed in order to be deconstructed out of its past. This constant prodding and poking at the multiple strings of history and its inequity is tiring and tiresome to say the least but contemporary Indian photography is not alone in this: Australian contemporary photography suffers from the same dis/ease.

The cacophony of “noise” which emanates from the contemporary photographs (and here I will use a section of text which mirrors the form) – – – from grids of hairy male legs seen from a child’s perspective (childhood memories / male figure / Indian family / perspectives of a child) to incarnations of mythological figures that examine “the genres of both the ethnographic photograph-as-document that is linked to the colonial era, as well as the fantasy-inspired make-believe that emanated from traditional Indian portrait studios in the late 19th and early 20th centuries” to conventions of colonial-era ethnographic portrait photographs of women dictated by male notions of femininity disrupted by deliberately dishevelled hair as a symbol of defiance against the notion of out-of-place hair seen as “hysterical” or “uncontrollable”, paradoxically making legible faces into ill/legible citizens, disturbed and defiant “others” (BIG BREATH!) – – – belies my lack of feeling for ANY of the photographs displayed.

After writing on photography since the year 2008 I keep coming up short / banging on the same drum about contemporary photography: I feel almost nothing for any of these photographs even as I appreciate their historical re-“visions”, their self-awareness and self-reflexivity (as much about the photographer as the subject), their intellectual rigour and conceptual contortions. They leave me feeling like I have been playing Twister with too many hands and feet, my mind tied up in an infinite library of thoughts and ideas while ruminating on less than stimulating images.

.
And so to the glorious, uplifting denouement of the exhibition which are the dynamic photographs of Suresh Punjabi’s Suhag Studio in Nagda, Madhya Pradesh. I am in love with them.

Reminiscent of the photographs of Africans by Malike Sidibé (Malian, 1935-2016), Seydou Keïta (Malian, 1921-2001) and Sanlé Sory (West African, b. 1943), Punjabi’s visions of Indian life possess a vital energy unlike anything else in this exhibition, and get as close to capturing the spirit of the Indian people as anything I have ever seen from the continent. This is because, at the time, Punjabi’s photographs (like the photographs of Atget) were not considered art but were documents taken for a broad set of purposes: from wedding and family albums to passport photos, from administrative photos to personal souvenirs, from family groups to playful contexts. Through their lack of pretension (ah, there is the key!) “Punjabi’s photographs chronicle daily life in small-town India, a context that many photographic histories from the subcontinent often miss… These portraits are the result of a deeply personal and unique relationship between Punjabi and his clients…”

Punjabi’s clients were like family to him, and he wanted to photograph them in the best way possible, to picture them how they wanted to see themselves. Deceptively simple and formal in their pictorial construction, Punjabi’s photographs allow us to touch the aspirations of everyday Indians – with their hopes and dreams, their communion with family and friends, lost in the moment of dance or conversation, or crowded together in a small 10 x 20 feet studio with painted backdrop. “You can sense the presence of a humane vision behind the mechanical eye of the camera.” Simply put, these “playfully intimate” and grounded photographs are a refreshing counterpoint to so many conceptual contemporary photographs which lead nowhere, for they have an immediacy and intimacy which touches us (through their palpable aura) as only the best photographs can. “He doesn’t really take pictures of people and things (or, God forbid, grind out endless examples of his own cleverness). He photographs feelings and relationships.” (U.S. Camera ’62)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. John Falconer. Under Indian Skies: 19th-Century Photographs from a Private Collection. Narayana Press, 2018, p. 35
  2. Aparna Andhare, Curator of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum quoted in “King’s Circle – Ram Singh & the Art of Intimate Portraiture,” on the Sarmaya website January 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 10/03/2022
  3. Falconer, op. cit., pp. 34-35

 

John Falconer. Under Indian Skies: 19th-Century Photographs from a Private Collection. Narayana Press, 2018, pp. 34-35.

.
Many thankx to Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the Monash Gallery of Art. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the opening of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the Johnston & Hoffman photograph Maharaja Sir Bhagwati Prasad Singh (1915, below)
Photo: Monash Gallery of Art

 

Johnston & Hoffman (founded 1882, dissolved 1950s) 'Maharaja Sir Bhagwati Prasad Singh' 1915

 

Johnston & Hoffman (founded 1882, dissolved 1950s)
Maharaja Sir Bhagwati Prasad Singh
1915
Hand-coloured albumen print
46.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

The leading photography studio of Johnston & Hoffman was established at 22 Chowringhee Road, Calcutta around 1882 by Theodore Julius Hoffman and Peter Arthur Johnston. A branch was opened in Darjeeling in 1890 and Simla in the mid 1890s. There was also a Burma branch at 70 Phayre Street, Rangoon for a short period between 1889-1890. Hoffmann took over the business on the death of Johnston – which was around 1886 and soon after the Calcutta business commenced. Theodore Hoffman died in Calcutta, India in December 1921. It was possibly the second largest commercial photographers in India after the studios of Bourne and Shepherd and were one of the first to publish postcards in Calcutta from at least 1898 onwards.

Anonymous text from the Families In British India Society (FIBIS) website Nd [Online] Cited 03/03/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Photography in the colonial era

 

Photography in the colonial era

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the photographs of Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (c. 1860, below)
Photo: Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur showing his self-portrait (c. 1860, centre, see below) and portraits of courtesans (c. 1860, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Informally called the ‘photographer prince of India,’ Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II was an avid photographer, creating over six thousand individual photographs and nearly two thousand glass plate negatives throughout his life. He is renowned for having photographed women residing in the zenana of the royal household – at a time when the women lived almost entirely out of public view – using modes of representation similar to traditional Victorian portraiture.

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880) 'Portrait of a courtesan' c. 1860 (installation view)

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880)
Portrait of a courtesan (installation view)
c. 1860
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880) 'Portrait of a courtesan' c. 1860

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880)
Portrait of a courtesan
c. 1860
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

The ‘zenana’ portraits [zenana: the part of a house for the seclusion of women], as they are often called, are among the most remarkable of these negatives. They show many individual South Asian women: some look away, others dress up and pose, and several stare down the photographer (and today’s viewer), challenging both to uncover their personalities and stories. That Sawai Ram Singh was able to achieve at least the former – that he was able to connect with, and portray, his sitters as individuals rather than ‘types’ – is one of the special qualities of his images. He seems not to have photographed any of his wives, but that he photographed so many women; that he found them ‘fit’ subjects to be sitters, is unusual for this period. Nothing comparable has emerged from any other contemporary Indian court. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure who all these women are – history is poor at remembering their names – but many were women at his court. Perhaps they were performers; some may have been paaswaans.

Mrinalini Venkateswaran. “How a 19th Century Jaipur Ruler Mastered Photography,” on the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website Nd [Online] Cited 10/03/2022

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880) 'Portrait of a courtesan' c. 1860 (installation view)

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880)
Portrait of a courtesan (installation view)
c. 1860
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Ram Singh was passionate about art and photography; he captured (and developed) numerous photographs of women, junior functionaries (like tailors) and nobles of his court. It is believed that Ram Singh was introduced to a camera in 1864 when photographer T. Murray visited Jaipur. After learning how to photograph, he used to carry his camera on all his trips. When western visitors came to his court, he used to learn photography from them.

Many of the photographs taken by him were of elite women who so-far lived an entirely secluded private life in the zenanas of his palace; captured in an western artificial setting, consisting of elegant backdrops, Victorian furniture and Persian carpets. It has been since considered as a pioneer effort at portraying Rajput women behind the purdah. Prior to Ram Singh’s photographs, portraits of specific Rajput women were nearly unknown and artists mass-produced idealised representations of women based on a single model, to serve a variety of occasions, for centuries. Interestingly, the names of the photographed women were not mentioned and whether the Maharanis allowed themselves to be photographed is unknown.

Laura Weinstein, an acclaimed art curator argues that the photographs served as an important tool to engage in the widespread discourse about Indian women behind the purdah [the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain] and they stood out as a rare group of photographs that did not mirror oriental conceptions of Indian domestic life. By appropriating the very European model of portrait photography – which emphasised the dignity and propriety of women, he infused dignity into the life of his photograph-figures unlike other concurrent attempts and refuted the colonial notion of the zenana-inhabitants being idle, unhygienic, superstitious, sexually deviant and oppressed. Rather than reforming the purdah system or associated woman issues, his photographs were modern tools that staunchly defended the tradition, much more than it breached, by portraying an apparent normalcy.

Ram Singh had also commissioned numerous self-portraits in a variety of poses ranging from a Hindu holy man to a Rajput warrior to a Western gentleman. Vikramaditya Prakash, an art-historian had described them as “self-consciously hybridised representations [which] straddle and contest the separating boundary – between coloniser and colonised, English and native – the preservation and reaffirmation of which was crucial for colonial discourse.”

The glass negatives that produced the portraits, the albumen print photograph collection and his own self-portraits are now displayed at the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in Jaipur. He was also a life-time member of Bengal Photographic Society.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880) 'Portrait of a courtesan' c. 1860 (installation view)

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880)
Portrait of a courtesan (installation view)
c. 1860
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880) 'Portrait of a courtesan' c. 1860 (installation view)

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880)
Portrait of a courtesan (installation view)
c. 1860
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880) 'Portrait of a courtesan' c. 1860 (installation view)

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880)
Portrait of a courtesan (installation view)
c. 1860
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880) 'Portrait of a courtesan' c. 1860 (installation view)

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880)
Portrait of a courtesan (installation view)
c. 1860
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880) 'Self-portrait' c. 1860

 

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur (Indian, 1833-1880)
Self-portrait
c. 1860
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the photographs of William Johnson (English, date born unknown – 1886) from the album The Oriental races and tribes, residents and visitors of Bombay with at left, The Kulis of the West of India (1852-1855, below); at centre, Chambhars (1852-1855, below); and at right, Kharavas (1852-1855, below)
Photo: Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the photographs of William Johnson (English, date born unknown – 1886) from the album The Oriental races and tribes, residents and visitors of Bombay with at left, The Kulis of the West of India (1852-1855, below); at centre, Chambhars (1852-1855, below); and at right, Kharavas (1852-1855, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Johnson (English, date born unknown - 1886) 'The Kulis of the West of India' 1852-1855

 

William Johnson (English, date born unknown – 1886)
The Kulis of the West of India
1852-1855
From the album The Oriental races and tribes, residents and visitors of Bombay
Albumen print
23.0 x 17.7cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

William Johnson (English, date born unknown - 1886) 'Chambhars' 1852-1855

 

William Johnson (English, date born unknown – 1886)
Chambhars
1852-1855
From the album The Oriental races and tribes, residents and visitors of Bombay
Albumen print
23.0 x 17.7cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Four members of the Chambhar community, historically associated with leather work, pose for an outdoor portrait by William Johnson, co-author and photographer of two-volume collection of albumen prints The Oriental Races and Tribes, Residents and Visitors of Bombay. The photographs with letter-press description are largely considered to be the first published ethnographic study of Indian people to use photos as well as written descriptions.

 

William Johnson (English, date born unknown - 1886) 'Kharavas' 1852-1855

 

William Johnson (English, date born unknown – 1886)
Kharavas
1852-1855
From the album The Oriental races and tribes, residents and visitors of Bombay
Albumen print
23.0 x 17.7cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

William Johnson

 

William Johnson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing in the bottom image at left and right, Wilson Brothers Bombay Portrait of Maharani Kusum Kunwarba (both c. 1930, below); and at centre Hamilton Studios Ltd Portrait of Maharani Vijaya Raje Scindia (c. 1940, below)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Wilson Studios Bombay. ‘Portrait of Maharani Kusum Kunwarbae’ c. 1930 (installation view)

 

Wilson Studios Bombay
Portrait of Maharani Kusum Kunwarba (installation view)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Hamilton Studios Ltd. 'Portrait of Maharini Vijaya Raje Scindia' c. 1940

 

Hamilton Studios Ltd
Portrait of Maharini Vijaya Raje Scindia
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Wilson Studios Bombay. 'Portrait of Maharani Kusum Kunwarba' c. 1930

 

Wilson Studios Bombay
Portrait of Maharani Kusum Kunwarba
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at left, Chunni Lall & Co Portrait of a man (1860-1880, below); and at right, Unknown photographer Portrait of a royal figure (1860-1880, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Chunni Lall & Co ‘Portrait of a man’ 1860-1880 (installation view)

 

Chunni Lall & Co
Portrait of a man (installation view)
1860-1880
Hand-coloured albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of a royal figure' 1860-1980 (detail)

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of a royal figure (detail)
1860-1980
Hand-coloured albumen print
26.6 x 21.5cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Khubiram Gopilal (Indian, 1891-1970) ‘A family worshipping deity Shrinathji during the festival of Nanda’ c. 1940 (installation view)

 

Khubiram Gopilal (Indian, 1891-1970)
A family worshipping deity Shrinathji during the festival of Nanda (installation view)
c. 1940
Gouache, gelatin silver prints
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

 

Khubiram Gopilal (Indian, 1891-1970) 'A family worshipping deity Shrinathji during the festival of Nanda' c. 1940

 

Khubiram Gopilal (Indian, 1891-1970)
A family worshipping deity Shrinathji during the festival of Nanda
c. 1940
Gouache, gelatin silver prints
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Khubiram Gopilal was a painter, studio photographer and collagist who specialised in a style of portrait called Manorath paintings, made for pilgrims visiting the Shrinarhji temple in the town of Nathdwara in Rajasthan (in northern India). To make these pictures, he photographed his subjects, carefully cut out their faces and hands and then pasted them into painted templates, using a brush and paint to mask the difference between the two mediums, making the final result appear like a detailed painting.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing artworks (left to right) by Johnson & Hoffman, Lala Deen Dayal and Bourne & Shepherd (see below)
Photo: Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at left, Johnston & Hoffmann’s Maharao Raja Sir Ramsinghji, Bahadur of Bondi (1887, below): and at right, four images by Layla Deen Dayal (c. 1880) from the album Princes and Chiefs of India
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905) 'HH The Maha Rao of Kutch' c. 1880

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
HH The Maha Rao of Kutch
c. 1880
From the album Princes and Chiefs of India
Carbon prints
25.1 x 19.5cm (each)
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)

Raja Lala Deen Dayal (Hindi: लाला दीन दयाल; 1844-1905; also written as ‘Din Dyal’ and ‘Diyal’ in his early years), famously known as Raja Deen Dayal) was an Indian photographer. His career began in the mid-1870s as a commissioned photographer; eventually he set up studios in Indore, Mumbai and Hyderabad. He became the court photographer to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahbub Ali Khan, Asif Jah VI, who awarded him the title Raja Bahadur Musavvir Jung Bahadur, and he was appointed as the photographer to the Viceroy of India in 1885.

He received the Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1897.

 

Career

In 1866, Deen Dayal entered government service as head estimator and draughtsman in the Department of Works Secretariat Office in Indore. Meanwhile, he took up photography. His first patron in Indore was Maharaja Tukoji Rao II of Indore state, who in turn introduced him to Sir Henry Daly, agent to the Governor General for Central India (1871-1881) and the founder of Daly College, who encouraged his work, along with the Maharaja himself who encouraged him to set up his studio in Indore. Soon he was getting commissions from Maharajas and the British Raj. The following year he was commissioned to photograph the governor general’s tour of Central India. In 1868, Deen Dayal founded his studio – Lala Deen Dayal & Sons – and was subsequently commissioned to photograph temples and palaces of India. He established studios in Indore (Mid 1870s), Secunderabad (1886) and Bombay (1896).

In 1875-1876, Deen Dayal photographed the Royal Tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales. In the early 1880s he travelled with Sir Lepel Griffin through Bundelkhand, photographing the ancient architecture of the region. Griffin commissioned him to do archaeological photographs: The result was a portfolio of 86 photographs, known as “Famous Monuments of Central India”.

The next year he retired from government service and concentrated on his career as a professional photographer. Deen Dayal became the court photographer to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad in 1885. Soon afterward he moved from Indore to Hyderabad. In the same year he was appointed as the photographer to the Viceroy of India. In time, the Nizam of Hyderabad conferred the honorary title of Raja upon him. It was at this time that Dayal created the firm Raja Deen Dayal & Sons in Hyderabad.

Deen Dayal was appointed photographer to Queen Victoria in 1897. In 1905–1906, Raja Deen Dayal accompanied the Royal Tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905) 'HH The Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir' c. 1880

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
HH The Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir
c. 1880
From the album Princes and Chiefs of India
Carbon prints
25.1 x 19.5cm (each)
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905) 'HH The Thakore Saheb of Palitana' c. 1880

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
HH The Thakore Saheb of Palitana
c. 1880
From the album Princes and Chiefs of India
Carbon prints
25.1 x 19.5cm (each)
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905) 'HH The Thakore Saheb of Dhrol' c. 1880

 

Lala Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844-1905)
HH The Thakore Saheb of Dhrol
c. 1880
From the album Princes and Chiefs of India
Carbon prints
25.1 x 19.5cm (each)
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Johnston & Hoffmann. 'Maharao Raja Sir Ramsinghji, Bahadur of Bondi' 1887

 

Johnston & Hoffmann
Maharao Raja Sir Ramsinghji, Bahadur of Bondi
1887
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

A note with this striking portrait of Maharao Raja Ram Singh Sahib Bahadur, of Bundi, describes him as a “wild fellow”. This image was taken from a four-volume album of photogravure prints, the only other copy belonging to Queen Victoria.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at left, Bourne and Shepherd Ranbir Singh Maharaja of Kashmir (1875, below); at centre right, Unknown photographer. Unidentified Maharaja (c. 1880, below); and at right, Unknown photographer. HH Maharaja Shrimant Sir Anandrao III Puar Sahib Bahadur, Maharaja of Dhar (c. 1870, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown photographer. 'Unidentified Maharaja' c. 1880 (installation view)

 

Unknown photographer
Unidentified Maharaja (installation view)
c. 1880
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown photographer. 'HH Maharaja Shrimant Sir Anandrao III Puar Sahib Bahadur, Maharaja of Dhar' c. 1870 (installation view)

 

Unknown photographer
HH Maharaja Shrimant Sir Anandrao III Puar Sahib Bahadur, Maharaja of Dhar (installation view)
c. 1870
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Bourne and Shepherd (active 1864-1900s) 'Ranbir Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir' 1875

 

Bourne and Shepherd (active 1864-1900s)
Ranbir Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir
1875
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing three portraits of a courtesan (all 1874) by Darogah Abbas Ali (Indian, dates unknown)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Darogah Abbas Ali (Indian, dates unknown) 'Portrait of a courtesan' 1874

 

Darogah Abbas Ali (Indian, dates unknown)
Portrait of a courtesan
1874
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing showing at top left, Nicholas & Company (attributed) Meenakshi Temple, Madurai (c. 1880, below); at top right, Nicholas & Company (attributed) Sacred tank (c. 1860); at bottom left, Nicholas & Company (attributed) Temple, Madurai (c. 1880); and at bottom right, Wiele and Klein Studio The Southern Gopura, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai (1895)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Nicholas & Company (attributed) 'Meenakshi Temple, Madurai' c. 1880

 

Nicholas & Company (attributed)
Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
c. 1880
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing showing at left, Unknown photographer. Portrait of a woman carrying pots c. 1870; at centre, Unknown photographer. Portrait of a man c. 1860-1880; and at right, Unknown photographer. Portrait of a couple c. 1860-1880
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at left, Willoughby Wallace Hooper (England, 1837-1912) The game brought into camp (c. 1880); and at right, Francis Frith & Co. Carved horses in the Sheshagirirayar Mandapa at the Ranganatha Temple of Srirangam (c. 1880, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Francis Frith & Co. 'Carved horses in the Sheshagirirayar Mandapa at the Ranganatha Temple of Srirangam' c. 1880

 

Francis Frith & Co.
Carved horses in the Sheshagirirayar Mandapa at the Ranganatha Temple of Srirangam
c. 1880
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at top left, Edward Taurines (attributed, dates unknown). Brahmins of Bombay (c. 1880, below); at bottom left, Charles Scott (attributed, dates unknown). Caves of Karlie – seven attendant musicians (c. 1855-1862) from the album Photographs of Western India; and at right, Unknown photographer. A group portrait of British officials (c. 1880)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Edward Taurines (attributed, dates unknown) 'Brahmins of Bombay' c. 1880

 

Edward Taurines (attributed, dates unknown)
Brahmins of Bombay
c. 1880
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing photographs by Felice Beato (Italian, 1832-1909) with at left, Kaiser Bagh (1857); at centre, The Secundra Bagh, showing the breach and gateway, first attack of Sir Colin Campbell in November (1858, below); and at right, Gateway leading into the residency held by Captain Atkinson, 13th Native Infantry, commonly called the Bailee Guard Gate (1858)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A pioneer of war photography who worked extensively in the Mediterranean, Middle East and South and East Asia, Felice Beato’s photographs reveal the brutality and aftermath of the conflicts he photographed. His reportage on the Crimean War (1853-1856), for instance, contrasted from that of his predecessor, the early British war photographer Roger Fenton, who was more restrained in depicting the lasting impressions of violence. In 1858, Beato travelled to India, after hearing about the rebellion that had broken out the previous year, and applied a similar approach. With the help of military personnel, he traversed the north of the country, documenting its aftermath in cities like Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Kanpur, where his photographs often depicted bullet-ridden facades and desecrated battlefields.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Felice Beato (Italian, 1832-1909) 'The Secundra Bagh, showing the breach and gateway, first attack of Sir Colin Campbell in November' 1858

 

Felice Beato (Italian, 1832-1909)
The Secundra Bagh, showing the breach and gateway, first attack of Sir Colin Campbell in November
1858
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Felice Beato (Italian, 1832-1909) 'Gateway leading into the residency held by Captain Atkinson, 13th Native Infantry, commonly called the Bailee Guard Gate' 1858

 

Felice Beato (Italian, 1832-1909)
Gateway leading into the residency held by Captain Atkinson, 13th Native Infantry, commonly called the Bailee Guard Gate
1858
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

John Edward Saché (Germany, b. 1824; America (dates unknown); India (dates unknown); died India 1882) 'Four ayahs from Naintal Region' 1865 (installation view)

 

John Edward Saché (Germany, b. 1824; America (dates unknown); India (dates unknown); died India 1882)
Four ayahs from Naintal Region (installation view)
1865
Albumen print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Samuel Bourne (British, 1834-1912) 'Taj Mahal, Agra' c. 1860

 

Samuel Bourne (British, 1834-1912)
Taj Mahal, Agra
c. 1860
Albumen print
16.0 x 20.6cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Samuel Bourne (British, 1834-1912)

Samuel Bourne (30 October 1834 – 24 April 1912) was a British photographer known for his prolific seven years’ work in India, from 1863 to 1870. Together with Charles Shepherd, he set up Bourne & Shepherd first in Shimla in 1863 and later in Kolkata (Calcutta); the company closed in June 2016. …

 

Work in India

He initially set up in partnership with an already established Calcutta photographer, William Howard. They moved up to Simla, where they established a new studio ‘Howard & Bourne’, to be joined in 1864 by Charles Shepherd, to form ‘Howard, Bourne & Shepherd’. By 1866, after the departure of Howard, it became ‘Bourne & Shepherd’, which became the premier photographic studio in India, and until it closed in June 2016 was perhaps the world’s oldest photographic business. Charles Shepherd evidently remained in Simla, to carry out the commercial and portrait studio work, and to supervise the printing and marketing of Bourne’s landscape and architectural studies, whilst Bourne was away travelling around the sub-continent.

Bourne spent six extremely productive years in India, and by the time he returned to England in January 1871, he had made approximately 2,200 fine images of the landscape and architecture of India and the Himalayas. Working primarily with a 10 x 12 inch plate camera, and using the complicated and laborious Wet Plate Collodion process, the impressive body of work he produced was always of superb technical quality and often of artistic brilliance. His ability to create superb photographs whilst travelling in the remotest areas of the Himalayas and working under the most exacting physical conditions, places him firmly amongst the very finest of nineteenth century travel photographers.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at centre, a group of work by Jyoti Bhatt (Indian, b. 1934)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Jyoti Bhatt (Indian, b. 1934) 'An old woman making/drawing a mandana (Rangoli) design, Rajasthan' 1972

 

Jyoti Bhatt (Indian, b. 1934)
An old woman making/drawing a mandana (Rangoli) design, Rajasthan
1972
Pigment ink-jet print
45.6 x 30.4cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Jyoti Bhatt (Indian, b. 1934)

Jyotindra Manshankar Bhatt (12 March 1934), better known as Jyoti Bhatt, is an Indian artist best known for his modernist work in painting and printmaking and also his photographic documentation of rural Indian culture. He studied painting under N. S. Bendre and K.G. Subramanyan at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University (M.S.U.), Baroda. Later he studied fresco and mural painting at Banasthali Vidyapith in Rajasthan, and in the early 1960s went on to study at the Academia di Belle Arti in Naples, Italy, as well the Pratt Institute in New York. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2019.

 

Biography

Bhatt moved from a cubist influence in his early work to a lighthearted and colourful Pop art that often drew its imagery from traditional Indian folk designs. Though Bhatt worked in a variety of mediums, including watercolours and oils, it is his printmaking that ultimately garnered him the most attention. In 1966 Bhatt returned to M.S.U. Baroda with a thorough knowledge of the intaglio process that he had gained at the Pratt Institute at Brooklyn in New York. It was partially Bhatt’s enthusiasm for intaglio that caused other artists such as Jeram Patel, Bhupen Khakhar and Gulammohammed Sheikh, to take up the same process. Bhatt, and his compatriots at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda, soon came to be known as “The Baroda School” of Indian art.

Late in the 1960s, Bhatt was asked to take photographs of Gujarati folk art. Initially, this work was done for a seminar, but it soon became one of the artist’s passions to document traditional Indian craft and design work. The disappearing arts of rural Gujarat became a focus. Though Bhatt’s investigations into a village and tribal designs certainly influenced the motifs he used in his printmaking, Bhatt considers his documentary photographs to be an art form in themselves. His direct and simply composed photographs have become valued on their own merit.

Throughout Bhatt’s long career as a teacher at the M.S.U. Faculty of Fine Arts, he has photographed the evolution of the university, the artistic activities of its faculty and students, and the architecturally significant buildings of Baroda. This huge body of work is perhaps the best assembled photographic documentation that pertains to “The Baroda School” of Indian art.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Jyoti Bhatt (Indian, b. 1934) 'A Rajasthani (Meena community) woman decorating a bullock for Gordhan Pooja festival' 1989

 

Jyoti Bhatt (Indian, b. 1934)
A Rajasthani (Meena community) woman decorating a bullock for Gordhan Pooja festival
1989
Gelatin silver print
34.5 x 51.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at right in the bottom image, Karen Knorr’s The Queen’s room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace, Udaipur (2010, below)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at left, Karen Knorr’s The Queen’s room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace, Udaipur (2010, below); and at right, A Place Like Amravati 2, Udaipur City Palace, Udaipur (2011)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Karen Knorr (American born Germany, b. 1954) 'The Queen's room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace, Udaipur' 2010

 

Karen Knorr (American born Germany, b. 1954)
The Queen’s room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace, Udaipur
2010
Pigment ink-jet print
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Karen Knorr (American born Germany, b. 1954)

Karen Knorr HonFRPS is a German-born American photographer who lives in London.

Knorr was born in Frankfurt and raised in the 1960s in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In the 1970s, she moved to Great Britain where she has lived ever since. Knorr is a graduate of the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster), and has an MA from the University of Derby. She is Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts.

Knorr’s work explores Western cultural traditions, mainly British society, with widely ranging topics, from lifestyle to animals. She is interested in conceptual art, visual culture, feminism, and animal studies, and her art maintains connections with these topics.

Between 1979 and 1981 Knorr produced Belgravia, a series of black and white photographs each accompanied by a short text, typically critical to the British class system of the time. Subsequently, she produced Gentlemen (1981-1983), a series consisting of photographs of gentlemen’s members clubs and texts taken from parliamentary speeches and news reports. In these series, Knorr investigated values of the English upper middle classes, comparing them with aristocratic values. In 1986, the series Connoisseurs was made in colour. The series incorporates staged events into English architectural interiors. Between 1994 and 2004, Knorr photographed fine art academies throughout Europe, which resulted in the series Academies.

In 2008, she traveled to Rajasthan and took a large series of photographs, predominantly showing Indian interiors, often with animals from Indian folklore inside. She subsequently became a frequent traveller to India, visiting the country 15 times between 2008 and 2014. She mentioned that most of the buildings in India were never photographed, and they are not less interesting than common tourist attractions.

From 2014 to 2015, one room of Tate Britain hosted an exhibition of her photographs of “posh west Londoners in domestic settings and portraits of members at a gentlemen’s club” (Belgravia series).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Karen Knorr (American born Germany, b. 1954) 'The Queen's room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace, Udaipur' 2010

 

Karen Knorr (American born Germany, b. 1954)
The Queen’s room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace, Udaipur
2010
Pigment ink-jet print
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

The photographer uses digital image manipulation to create scenes that critique upper caste Rajput culture and examine marginalisation, mythology and power.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at centre, two photographs by Gauri Gill (see below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Muslim women praying at dawn in Srinagar' 1948

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Muslim women praying at dawn in Srinagar
1948
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Marc Riboud (French, 1923-2015) 'Darjeeling, India' 1956

 

Marc Riboud (French, 1923-2015)
Darjeeling, India
1956
Gelatin silver print
24.0 x 36.5cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Marc Riboud (French, 1923-2015) 'Benares, India' 1956

 

Marc Riboud (French, 1923-2015)
Benares, India
1956
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 36cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art (MGA) announce the upcoming exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary featuring works from the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), Bengaluru. Since its invention in Europe in the 1840s, the genre of photography has played an integral role in the course of Indian art history. Although it is often quoted that India is the most photographed country in the world, the history of its representation is more complicated, and more political than initially meets the eye. Within just a few months of its invention, the camera arrived in the subcontinent at the height of British colonial rule. Photographs from the time typically served the colonial purpose of administration and control, and thus, often reflected colonial views. Over the subsequent few decades, and at an unprecedented scale, India – its landscapes, people, traditions and archaeological history – was catalogued for the colonial eye and transformed into a governable ‘object.’

Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary will be the first major survey of Indian photography in Australia, and all artworks showcased will be from the collection of Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), Bengaluru, which is one of the most celebrated photographic collections in India. The exhibition will be on view at MGA until 20 March 2022.

‘While this exhibition takes the context of colonialism as an entry point – both chronologically and conceptually – the historical arc of photography in India extends far beyond this initial point of contact, encompassing a range of shifts in artistic, cultural and political attitudes, and other voices who exist outside the traditional canon. With this exhibition, we will uncover not only the primary history of the genre, but also the multiple parallel and lesser-known photographic practices in the subcontinent that re-emphasise the diverse and socially significant story of Indian photography.’ ~ Nathaniel Gaskell, curator

.
One such narrative will be highlighted through a section looking at the work of Suresh Punjabi, the photographer and owner of the Studio Suhag in Nagda, Madhya Pradesh, established in 1979. Punjabi made portraits for a broad set of purposes, from wedding and family albums to passport photos to personal souvenirs. Working at the time in a small 10 x 20 feet studio. His photographs chronicle the human drama of life in a small-town in the heart of India; a history told through faces and attest to the existence of vast and distinct photographic histories that extend beyond formal archives and institutions.

Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary offers a journey through one of the most complex and photographed countries in the world. This ground-breaking exhibition is curated by Nathaniel Gaskell from MAP’s unique photographic collection specifically for MGA. For many of our audience members, this may be their first encounter with these artists, their works and even with the history of India, while others may recognise places or feel resonance with their Indian cultural heritage. The exhibition draws together an array of unique and fascinating works from the earliest days of colonial India through to some of the nation’s most remarkable contemporary photographers, in the first survey of its kind in Australia.’ ~ Anouska Phizacklea, MGA Gallery Director

.
The exhibition will begin its journey from 1860 onwards, displaying portraits of India’s ruling elite by pioneering photographers and studios of the time, such as Samuel Bourne, Francis Frith & Co., Felicé Beato, Willoughby Wallace Hooper, Lala Deen Dayal and Khubiram Gopilal, as well as looking at some more creative, non-commercial studios, such as that of Maharaja Ram Singh II, ‘The photographer Prince’ who had established a studio at his palace in Jaipur.

Entering the decades following India’s independence in 1947, the exhibition will showcase works by well-known mid-century European photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson to reveal how photography remained entrenched in orientalist ways of seeing, for the benefit of Western media. However, a number of Indian photographers, such as Mitter Bedi and Jyoti Bhatt, were also using photography to represent tradition, inequity and modernity in a changing world, responding to the industrialisation and the economic progress of the country.

The third section, featuring photographic practices from the 1990s onwards, will highlight themes of Western hegemony, postcolonialism, identity politics and the ethics of representation through the works of celebrated contemporary photographers, Pushpamala N and her collaborator Clare Arni, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Anoli Perera, and Michael Bühler-Rose, an American ordained Hindu priest who pledges spiritual allegiance to India whilst working from his studios in both Mysore and New York.

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the work of Mitter Bedi (Indian, 1926-1985) with at left, Hindustan lever pipeline to success (1961, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Mitter Bedi (Indian, 1926-1985) 'Hindustan lever pipeline to success' 1961

 

Mitter Bedi (Indian, 1926-1985)
Hindustan lever pipeline to success
1961
Gelatin silver print
100.0 x 75.0cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

The photographer’s shots of industrial subjects from a newly independent India aimed to represent the ideals of an economically self-reliant and rapidly mechanised country, in line with the vision of its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

 

Mitter Bedi (Indian, 1926-1985)

Mitter Bedi (26 January 1926 – 11 March 1985) was an Indian photographer, specialising in industrial photography, and a teacher. Prior to his interest in the field there was little photographic use in advertising and his images have become classic icons. He was a recipient of several awards and he had his own photographic agency in Bombay (now Mumbai), which became well known in Asia. …

 

Career

Bedi started his career by working for a printing press and the publicity department of a commercial firm and then took up a job in the film industry in 1947, the year of the partitioning of India and Pakistan into independent nations. At the start of his career in the early 1950s, his photographic assignments covered small events, mostly related to weddings and birthday celebrations or serving as the third or fourth assistant to a Bollywood film director. He frequented the airport to photograph passengers departing and arriving, which prompted his father-in-law B.N. Goenka, an industrialist, to suggest that Bedi change professions or travel abroad. However Bedi was firm in his resolve to continue in his chosen profession and said: “I am never going to leave the profession but bring it to the heights it deserves”. In 1959 his photographic assignments saw a drastic change when he met Arthur D’Arzian, who had specialised in photography of the steel and oil industry, during a social function of the Standard Oil Company in Bombay. Bedi then pursued engagements of Industrial photography, a new field just taking off in the country.

Bedi’s assignments covered public sector corporations and private enterprises. From 1960 to 1985, he traversed the industrial regions of India taking pictures. He took more than 2,000 photo shoots during the span of his career and covered projects from industries such as steel and oil, hospitality, mines, sugar, pharmaceuticals and many more. To propagate black-and-white photography as a profession in the country he wrote many articles and also established an academy in Bombay which is still operational under the direction of his family members. His photographs depicted a nation in which the factory and reactor dominated over the Indian people. He also worked as visiting professor in: K.C. College of Journalism, Bombay during 1974-1975; National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad in 1976; in Rajednra Prasad Institute of Communication, Bombay in 1978; and in SNDT Women’s University, Bombay, 1978. His academy in Bombay was a prominent institution in photography which enrolled national and international students and teachers.

Bedi’s images have become classic icons of the industrialisation which was carried out in India under Nehru. In spite of the limiting aspects of photographs taken primarily for advertising, Bedi introduced shape, design and geometric planes to create artistic rather than simply functional images. His visual expressions and artistry were used by both the state and industrialists to drive national development. An oeuvre of his black-and-white photographs taken during the period 1960s to 1970s, was held at the Piramal Centre for Photography representing an Art Form in Mumbai.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (British, b. 1964) 'Feather Indian/Dot Indian' 2008-2009

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (British, b. 1964)
Feather Indian/Dot Indian
2008-2009
From the series An Indian from India
Ink-jet prints on transparencies, metallic gold cards, leather case
14.5 x 9.4cm (each image)
Courtesy of the artist and Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Near-identical photographs place two “Indians” side by side. A double portrait framed in a leather case, made to appear as a traditional orotone. Matthew’s series An Indian from India addresses the historical identities of Indians and Native Americans, who – owing to Christopher Columbus’s erroneous identification on arriving in the Antilles in the late 15th century – have long been misidentified, and questions the nature of assimilation within and beyond the US.

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (British, b. 1964) 'Noble savage/savage noble' 2007-2009

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (British, b. 1964)
Noble savage/savage noble
2007-2009
from the series An Indian from India
Ink-jet prints on transparencies, metallic gold cards, leather case
14.5 x 9.4 cm (each image)

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (British, b. 1964) 'American Indian with war paint/Indian with war paint' 2007-2009

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (British, b. 1964)
American Indian with war paint/Indian with war paint
2007-2009
from the series An Indian from India
Ink-jet prints on transparencies, metallic gold cards, leather case
14.5 x 9.4 cm (each image)

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the work of Anoli Perera
Photo: Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art with in the bottom image, showing at left, three works by Anoli Perera (see below); at centre right, two photographs by Pushpamala N with Clare Arni. Returning from the tank (2001, below) and Lakshmi (2001, below); and at right, work by Pushpamala N with Clare Arni from the series Native women of South India (manners and customs) (see below)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anoli Perera (Sri Lankan, b. 1962; America 1988-1992; Sri Lanka 1992-2016; arrived India 2016) 'I let my hair loose' 2010-2011

 

Anoli Perera (Sri Lankan, b. 1962; America 1988-1992; Sri Lanka 1992-2016; arrived India 2016)
I let my hair loose
2010-2011
From the Protest series I
Pigment ink-jet prints
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Young women in 2010-2011 pose according to the conventions of colonial-era portrait photography with deliberately dishevelled hair as a symbol of defiance against the notion of out-of-place hair seen as “hysterical” or “uncontrollable.”

 

Anoli Perera (Sri Lankan, b. 1962; America 1988-1992; Sri Lanka 1992-2016; arrived India 2016) 'I let my hair loose' 2010-2011

 

Anoli Perera (Sri Lankan, b. 1962; America 1988-1992; Sri Lanka 1992-2016; arrived India 2016)
I let my hair loose
2010-2011
From the Protest series IV
Pigment ink-jet prints
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Hair covers the face of a young woman who poses according to the conventions of colonial-era portrait photography. The Sri Lankan-born, Delhi-based artist is inspired not only by colonial-ethnographic images but also by portraits of women she saw as a child, often dictated by male notions of femininity. ‘Hair in its proper place is seen as a mark of beauty,’ she says. ‘Hair out of place is seen as significations of hysterical, uncontrollable, uncertain and unpredictable behaviour’.

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962) 'Returning from the tank' 2001

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962)
Returning from the tank
2001
From the series Native women of South India (manners and customs)
Chromogenic prints
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962) 'Lakshmi' 2001

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962)
Lakshmi
2001
From the series Native women of South India (manners and customs)
Chromogenic prints
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Pushpamala N with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962) 'Cracking the whip D-4' 2000-2004

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962)
Cracking the whip D-4
2000-2004
From the series Native women of South India (manners and customs)
Sepia-toned gelatin silver print
13.1 x 8.8cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

“In which the original Native Types characters perform as ethnographic objects”

Pushpamala N. (born 1956) is a photo and visual artist based in Bangalore, India. Born in Bangalore, Pushpamala formally trained as a sculptor and eventually shifted to photography to explore her interest in narrative figuration. Pushpamala has been referred to as “the most entertaining artist-iconoclast of contemporary Indian art”. Her work has been described as performance photography, as she frequently uses herself as a model in her own work. “She is known for her strongly feminist work and for her rejection of authenticity and embracing of multiple realities. As one of the pioneers of conceptual art in India and a leading figure in the feminist experiments in subject, material and language, her inventive work in sculpture, conceptual photography, video and performance have had a deep influence on art practice in India.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clare Arni is a photographer whose work encompasses social documentary and cultural heritage. Clare’s body of work has been exhibited extensively, both in private galleries and cultural institutions. Her solo exhibitions document the lives of marginalised communities in some of the most remote regions of India and the disappearing trades of urban India.

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962) 'Returning from the tank 1' 2000-2004

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962)
Returning from the tank 1
2000-2004
From the series Native women of South India (manners and customs)
Sepia-toned gelatin silver print
13.1 x 8.8cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Artist Pushpamala measures herself in front of a Lamprey grid, a dehumanising ethnographic tool deployed to standardise the photography of people during and after the late 19th century. By satirically re-enacting this form of subjugation, Pushpamala, in collaboration with fellow artist Arni, questions the colonial gaze and critiques its obsession with classification.

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962) 'Velankani F6-A' 2000-2004

 

Pushpamala N (Indian, b. 1956) with Clare Arni (Scottish, b. 1962)
Velankani F6-A
2000-2004
From the series Native women of South India (manners and customs)
Sepia-toned gelatin silver print
13.1 x 8.8cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the work of Waswo X Waswo (American, b. 1953; arrived India 2001) with at left, Tribal dreams (2008, below); and at right, Night prowl (2008, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Waswo X Waswo (American, b. 1953; arrived India 2001) 'Tribal dreams' 2008

 

Waswo X Waswo (American, b. 1953; arrived India 2001)
Tribal dreams
2008
Pigment ink-jet prints
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Waswo X. Waswo first visited India in 1993; after several trips in the intervening years, he finally moved to India, renting a home and building a studio in Udaipur in 2006. This series is a comprises of Waswo’s hand-coloured work through a wide selection of photographs produced in his studio.

Playfully examining the genres of both the ethnographic photograph-as-document that is linked to the colonial era, as well as the fantasy-inspired make-believe that emanated from traditional Indian portrait studios in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Waswo creates a unique brand of contemporary photography that is an inspired mix of homage and critique. Ranging from shots of single figures to theatrically arranged tableaux, these photographs feature everyone from Gauri dancers to flower sellers, the incarnations of mythological figures, farmers and school children. In the tradition of pictorialism, Waswo’s carefully crafted images with their pastoral backdrops and hand-tinted processing resonate with a romantic sensibility, while yet remaining humorously self-aware and self-reflexive.

Anonymous text from the TARQ website Nd [Online] Cited 10/03/2022

 

Waswo X Waswo (American, b. 1953; arrived India 2001) 'Night prowl' 2008

 

Waswo X Waswo (American, b. 1953; arrived India 2001)
Night prowl
2008
Pigment ink-jet prints
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Michael Bühler-Rose (American, b. 1980) 'Camphor flame on pedestal' 2010

 

Michael Bühler-Rose (American, b. 1980)
Camphor flame on pedestal
2010
Pigment ink-jet print
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the work of Gauri Gill (Indian, b. 1970) with at left, Madhu (2003, below); and at right, Revanti (2003, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gauri Gill (Indian, b. 1970) 'Madhu' 2003

 

Gauri Gill (Indian, b. 1970)
Madhu
2003
From the series Balika Mela
Pigment ink-jet print
161.2 x 106.6cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

In 2003 the non profit organisation Urmul Setu Sansthan organised a Balika Mela – or fair for girls, in Lunkaransar town, attended by almost fifteen hundred adolescent girls from seventy surrounding villages. The Mela had various stalls, food, performances, a Ferris wheel, magicians, puppet shows, games and competitions, similar to any other small town fair. Urmul Setu invited the photographer to “do something with photography” at the Mela.

“I created a photo-stall for anyone to come in and have their portrait taken, and later buy the silver gelatin print at a subsidised rate if they wished. I had a few basic props and backdrops, whatever we could get from the local town studio and cloth shop on a very limited budget, but it was fairly minimal, and since it can get windy out in the desert everything would keep getting blown around, or periodically struck down. The light was the broad, even light of a desert sky, filtered through the cloth roof of our tent. Many of the more striking props – like the peacock and the paper hats – were brought in by the girls themselves. Girls came in, and decided how and with whom they would like to be photographed – best friends, new friends, sisters, the odd younger brother who had tagged along, girls with their teachers, the whole class, the local girl scouts. Some of those who posed for the pictures went on to learn photography in the workshops that we started in May of that year, and two years later they photographed the fair themselves.”

Gauri Gill, 2009

Text from the Nature Morte website [Online] Cited 08/03/2022

 

Gauri Gill (Indian, b. 1970) 'Revanti' 2003

 

Gauri Gill (Indian, b. 1970)
Revanti
2003
From the series Balika Mela
Pigment ink-jet print
161.2 x 106.6cm
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Indu Antony (Indian, b. 1982) 'Uncle Had Hairy Legs' 2017

 

Indu Antony (Indian, b. 1982)
Uncle Had Hairy Legs
2017
From the series Vincent Uncle
Courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

A set of 21 similarly composed photographs depict the legs of men wearing mundus. In her 2017 series Vincent Uncle, Antony investigates childhood memories and comments on the male figure within the Indian family by portraying her subjects from the perspective of a child.

 

 

Installation view of the opening of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing at left, Suresh Punjabi’s Untitled (Two train porters, Behru Singh and his son Laxman) (Nd, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“I was never lonely. Through these mute photographs, this town slowly started to become my family. We were having a conversation that needed no words.”

.
Suresh Punjabi

 

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Two train porters, Behru Singh and his son Laxman)' Nd (installation view)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Two train porters, Behru Singh and his son Laxman)
1983
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Two train porters, Behru Singh and his son Laxman)' 1983

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Two train porters, Behru Singh and his son Laxman)
1983
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Two train porters, Behru Singh and his son Laxman by Suresh Punjabi. The owner and photographer of Suhag Studio in Nagda, Madhya Pradesh – one of thousands of photographers who opened studios in small towns after the 1950s – foregrounds the copper armbands synonymous with the sitters’ professions. These carried cultural and social capital, as evidenced by Amitabh Bachchan’s portrayal of the porter as a working-class hero in the 1983 Bollywood movie Coolie.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Visions of India: from the colonial to the contemporary at the Monash Gallery of Art showing the work of Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1983-1984

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1983-1984
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

A farmer from near Nagda visits Punjabi’s studio to have his portrait made for the first time. While the purpose of the photo is unclear, the man’s wide-eyed stare suggests that the camera either caught him by surprise or that he was overly exerting himself in an attempt to pose appropriately. His all-white attire, turban and Punjabi’s use of a shallow depth of field add to the portrait’s intrigue.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1979

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1979
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Some of the earliest and perhaps most obvious drivers of Suhag Studio’s business were administrative portraits, which Punjabi’s clients requested frequently and for a number of reasons, from paperwork for school admissions to procuring disability benefits. When juxtaposed, these images highlight the sheer diversity of Punjabi’s clientele, who appear to us as a mosaic of faces, registering the Indian bureaucracy’s efforts to account for them as formal and formally documented citizens.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

An older woman poses for a formal portrait at Suhag Studio. Like many of the other women photographed by Punjabi for this reason, this sitter too has a chunni (thin scarf) draped over her head, a convention that has since changed as the production of administrative photographs such as these has become increasingly standardised.

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1979

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1979
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Unlike the other administrative images in Punjabi’s archive, this is a full-length portrait because the older man in it asked to be photographed on his crutches, so he could claim disability entitlements from the government. The evidentiary quality of the photograph meant it was an important tool for India’s expanding identification and welfare system. With three studio lights focused directly on the standing subject, the portrait highlights both the man and his condition, making Punjabi an important middleman in the way he is able to be ‘seen’ by the state.

 

Identification & Records

By the late 1970s, identity documents had embedded themselves deeply into Indian civic life. Standardised photographs became necessary for many administrative activities, from accessing food subsidies to completing job applications. Punjabi’s studio provided an essential administrative service – and for Nagda’s poor and working classes, it became one of the few ways in which the presence of India’s creaking bureaucracy was felt.

Most people interpreted these photographic services through their own needs. One man insisted on a full-length portrait showing his crutches in order to qualify for disability entitlements; another arrived in a crisp white shirt for a passport photograph. When juxtaposed, these images highlight the sheer diversity of Punjabi’s clients, who collectively appear as a mosaic of faces, registering the state’s efforts to make them ‘legible’ citizens.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1985

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1985
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1987

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Administrative portrait) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1987
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“Rooted to the hallowed tradition of studio photography that began in 19th-century India with pioneers like Samuel Bourne and Lala Deen Dayal, Punjabi was also a visionary entrepreneur-artist. When he stood before his sitters, the film of familiarity lifted from their faces, exposing their fondest dreams and desires. In a sense, Punjabi donned the mantle of a dream merchant, as the archivist of the Great Indian Dream. And to such dreams, he himself had also been susceptible. …

In the 1970s, the family business had started to dwindle, forcing Punjabi to move to Nagda, a small town, some 100 km away from Indore. There, he opened Suhag Studio – the name was meant to drawn in clients interested in taking matrimonial photographs – to help his family. It proved to be a lifelong move, indeed an obsession.

Punjabi’s archives, as Gaskell and Nayar indicate in their curation, could be divided into several segments, first of which is his administrative photographs, which cover almost 30% of his archives. These images are mostly mug shots of individuals, taken for the purpose of identification papers and bureaucratic documents. But even in these fairly generic images, the drama of the human face is dimly palpable. You can sense the presence of a humane vision behind the mechanical eye of the camera. Punjabi seems to avoid the vapid blandness of documentary studio photography, where the subject is usually leached of all character and presented sans expression for the unfeeling scrutiny of the state.

A man in crutches is photographed in full profile by Punjabi on his request, with the camera lights included in the frame. The image is meant to be evidentiary record of his disability. Another man in a turban stares back at the camera, his pupils dilated, like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights of the Indian state. The incongruity of the carpeted studio floor, the sophisticated props (by the standard of those days) and the intensely ordinary attire of these people are starkly noticeable.

A woman dangles a bunch of grapes before her mouth, recreating the cliché of a lovestruck / lascivious heroine from the annals of Indian cinema. A man poses stiffly in tie and a pair of bell-bottoms, his hair neatly combed. Another one, in a vest, presents a study in contrasts, his hair stylishly long, a kerchief tied to his neck, a cigarette hanging from his lips. He rocks the archetypal mawali look to a T. You can sense the shadow of a slightly crumpled angry young man about his persona, modelled perhaps after Amitabh Bachchan, who was still the reigning hero in the galaxy of Bollywood cinema in the 1980s, when these photographs were taken.

If the influence of cinema shines through these compositions, more intriguing insinuations are made by some of the group photographs. In one, for instance, three men are seated close to one another, two of them locking fingers. The one in the middle stares at the camera, while the other two look in different directions.

These “playfully intimate” photographs, as Nayar calls them, are mementos of different kinds of bonds – filial, friendly, romantic – that were enacted inside the realms of the studio. Thus, Punjabi’s Suhag Studio opened up a space, where much more than plain documentation could be wagered. …

While each of these images stands boldly on its own – carrying its individual aura of distinction and enveloped by its unspoken narratorial arc – they also exist within an ecosystem of emotions that coursed through a nation during a certain phase of its development. With their thoughtful curation and textual notes, Gaskell and Nayar draw our attention to details that would otherwise have escaped our untrained eyes. They also make crucial connections between Punjabi’s work and those of Malike Sidibé’s (1935-2016) from Mali and Hashem El Madani’s (1928-2017) from Lebanon, among others. These photographers, legends in their own rights, also documented the seen and unseen faces of their nations with skill, complexity and exquisite artistry.

Extract from Somak Ghoshal. “Suresh Punjabi: The man who captured the Great Indian Dream,” on the Mint Lounge website 24/01/2021 [Online] Cited 03/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Full-length portrait of two men) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1985-1986

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Full-length portrait of two men) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1985-1986
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Two friends, dressed rather stylishly, stand in a slight three-quarter profile while looking directly into the camera. Punjabi often offered props such as sunglasses and hats to his sitters, however the origin of the pieces of clothing featured here – including the flared trousers and blazers – remains unclear. One interesting clue, likely intended to be cropped, is the pair of slippers near the bottom left of the frame. Only one of the men is wearing shoes, suggesting that the shoes are props and the slippers belong to him.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Full-length portrait of a man), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1985

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Full-length portrait of a man), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1985
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Punjabi’s childhood coincided with the waning years of the Golden Era of Hindi cinema, which he regularly drew inspiration from when developing his own visual style. Each of these images are largely inspired by the cultural lexicon of the times – outward expressions of heroism, villainy, aspiration, camaraderie, romance, and above all, personal style – and expresses a distinct style of playful formality, seemingly both rehearsed and improvised.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

On first meeting the man photographed here, Punjabi remarked how much he resembled the actor Amitabh Bachchan. In this portrait, the man’s long legs – much like Bachchan’s – appear even longer in his flared pants. The man’s distant stare, and the peeking studio lights on either edge of the frame, add further credibility to the fiction that this man is perhaps a body double preparing himself for an actual film scene. Being one of the most recognisable of Punjabi’s individual portraits, this image also appears on the cover of scholar Christopher Pinney’s book Artisan Camera: Studio Photography from Central India (2013).

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Group portrait of a family), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1986-1987

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Group portrait of a family), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1986-1987
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Life in Nagda, like in many towns in India, moved along a network of overlapping social relationships – friends, lovers, community members, coworkers. As photography opened up new opportunities for self-representation, these relationships seeped into the studio as well. Punjabi worked to represent his sitters against the social contexts, resulting in images that show us packed families, impassive coworkers, bashful lovers, playful friends and various expressions of cultural and religious celebration; connections, seen and unseen, caught mid-pose.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

In one of Punjabi’s most crowded compositions, a family of eight gathers into a tight frame for a group portrait. During this period, it was not uncommon for Punjabi to leave his studio (and sometimes Nagda as well) to photograph large families, often in front of their ancestral homes. In this case however, the family just about manages to squeeze into the indoor space. Accommodating all eight members also brings the studio’s ceiling into view, highlighting the limited, 10 x 20 feet space in which he worked during those years.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Group portrait of four friends), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1985 (installation view)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Group portrait of four friends), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh (installation view)
1985
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Full length portrait of three girls), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1979 (installation view)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Full length portrait of three girls), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh (installation view)
1979
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Although it’s difficult to say with certainty, the three young girls in this portrait are likely sisters who planned to have their photograph made on this day. Lending further credence to this assumption is the fact that two of the three girls are wearing identical patterns. At this time, especially in small and mid-sized towns in India, it wasn’t uncommon for households to have matching clothes stitched from the same piece of fabric, especially for siblings to wear. Another interesting aspect of this portrait, although not obvious at first glance, is that the girls on either side are far taller than the one in the middle, who must stand on a small stool – partly concealed by the other girls’ patterned clothing – to help retain a sense of continuity across the faces in the portrait.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Portrait of a man holding a bird), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1987 (installation view)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Portrait of a man holding a bird), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh (installation view)
1987
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Portrait of a man holding a bird), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1987

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Portrait of a man holding a bird), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1987
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

On entering Suhag Studio, the man in this portrait had one simple request for Punjabi: to be photographed with his beloved pet bird. In the resulting image, the man appears in flared trousers, thick-rimmed glasses and a rounded hat, leaning on a stool as his bird sits on his left index finger. In a bid to further accentuate the man’s lean, Punjabi tilts his camera to his right when taking the image, causing the painted background to appear slanted.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) Untitled (Seated portrait of three friends) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh 1979 (installation view)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Seated portrait of three friends) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh (installation view)
1979
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Seated portrait of three friends) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1979

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Seated portrait of three friends) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1979
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

In this informal group portrait, the relationship between three male friends finds an intriguing physical manifestation. The man in the centre stares directly into the lens, deadpan, while holding the hand of the man to his right who, in turn, gazes at the third man on the very left, whose focus is caught by something beyond the frame. The language of eyes and hands gains an almost filmic intensity through Punjabi’s treatment, which highlights his enduring interest in capturing unseen and understated gestures in his portraits.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Portrait of a young tea seller) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1987

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Portrait of a young tea seller) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1987
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

While many came to Punjabi with the hope of enacting the role of a film hero, others brought in a different set of influences. Working outside Suhag Studio selling tea, this boy was photographed by Punjabi in a highly stylised way, mimicking the temperament of a cinematic villain. The sunglasses, scarf and unlit cigarette – likely all props – contribute to this overall effect and lend a certain swagger to the thin boy’s leaning posture.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

 

 

 

Suresh Punjabi’s Suhag Studio: The Business of Dreams

This film tells the remarkable story of a photography studio in central India, established by Suresh Punjabi in the 1970s. Punjabi took tens of thousands of photographs over nearly half a century, documenting the lives and people of Nagda. The film forms part of an online exhibition of the same name, curated by Nathaniel Gaskell and Varun Nayar, for the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) in Bangalore and has been directed by Naveed Mulki / Faraway Originals. Special thanks to Pratik and Suresh Punjabi and family, and to the people of Nagda who appear in the film.

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Two men with a transistor radio), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1983

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Two men with a transistor radio), Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1983
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Punjabi’s sitters, two unnamed men, pose holding a smaller transistor radio – the first in Nagda – up to their ears.

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) Untitled (Portrait of a man posing with a telephone) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1985 (installation view)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Portrait of a man posing with a telephone) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh (installation view)
1985
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

While the language of Hindi cinema had a significant impact on Punjabi, it was part of a larger constellation of influences. His work also captured how people from Nagda – a fast-industrialising town that sat outside but was never delinked from India’s urban centres – articulated their evolving ambitions and self-conceptions; a context in which a particular posture or prop could reveal a host of personal preferences and worldviews.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Portrait of a man posing with a telephone) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1985

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Portrait of a man posing with a telephone) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1985
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

A landline telephone makes an appearance in this individual portrait that features a slender young man pretending to be preoccupied for the camera. Apparent in the photograph is the sitter’s desire to associate himself with the sense of modernity and connectivity that the telephone – regardless of who is on the other side – symbolises.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) Untitled (Man with a camera) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1985 (installation view)

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Man with a camera) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh (installation view)
1985
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Man with a camera) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1985

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Man with a camera) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1985
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

Punjabi recalls this young man asking for a portrait that would make him look like a “smart, gentleman photographer.” The magazine, camera and tie featured in this image are all props, demonstrating Punjabi’s effort to meet his client’s expectations.

Magazines appear frequently in many of Punjabi’s portraits, where they express a certain urbane and sophisticated form of indulgence that was an important cultural signifier for India’s emerging middle class. Typically, this prop magazine was just whatever was lying around in the studio – often an issue of an entertainment magazine such as Bombay Screen or Mayapuri, from which Punjabi also drew visual inspiration.

The Japanese Yashica – presumably Punjabi’s – slung on this man’s shoulder was a pricey piece of equipment that didn’t typically circulate beyond urban markets. Its existence in this portrait speaks to the sitter’s desire for ‘smartness,’ expressing a degree of professional acuity as well as socioeconomic mobility and access.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Four men standing in front of a truck) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1985
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

There were times when Punjabi ventured out of his studio and into both nearby streets and remote villages, into temples and bars and through wedding processions and funerals. Having started out working weddings, Punjabi had become a keen-eyed and quick-footed photographer, rarely without a camera when the moment demanded it. These outdoor images provide a crucial bridge between the regulated and consciously arranged dream-world of his studio and the teeming human drama of everyday life just outside its doors.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

In one of many images Punjabi made outside his studio, a group of five men pose near a truck in Nagda, which is decorated with lights and flowers to commemorate Diwali. One of the men is hanging off the passenger side of the vehicle, though it is unclear whether he is its owner. Punjabi often ventured out into town with his camera and took photographs of everything from upturned vehicles for insurance claims to mass processions for funerals of important local figures.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (Group portrait of men with cigarettes) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1979

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (Group portrait of men with cigarettes) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1979
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

In one of Punjabi’s more crowded outdoor photographs, made at a local wedding, a number of men huddle around a bench at night, exchanging cigarettes, gestures and conversation. Nearly all of them are dressed in white, leading one to believe that they may have all been at the same event prior to – or even during – the point at which this image was made. In the background of the image, written in large Hindi letters on the back of a small wooden shack are the words: “The country’s leader, Indira Gandhi.” The 1970s and early 80s were a tumultuous time for the nation, primarily due to Gandhi’s imposition of a state of emergency from 1975-1977. This image was made after the state of emergency and before Gandhi’s assassination in 1984.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957) 'Untitled (A man dancing during a wedding) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh' 1980

 

Suresh Punjabi (Indian, b. 1957)
Untitled (A man dancing during a wedding) Suhag Studio, Nagda, Madhya Pradesh
1980
Pigment ink-jet print
33.0 x 33.0cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

 

 

The subject does not see the bright flash of Punjabi’s camera as he dances energetically alongside the wedding band and many guests at his friend’s wedding. A good wedding photographer must be invisible. Punjabi’s knack for framing an image inconspicuously and at the right moment reflects in a number of his outdoor photographs, especially of ceremonial events.

Text from the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) website [Online] Cited 09/03/2022

 

 

Suresh Punjabi’s Suhag Studio: The Business of Dreams – The Business of Dreams Chapter 1, 1970s

The history of Studio Suhag in Nagda, Madhya Pradesh

 

 

Suresh Punjabi’s Suhag Studio: The Business of Dreams Chapter 2, 1980s

The history of Studio Suhag in Nagda, Madhya Pradesh

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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