The tradition of painted photographs reached its zenith during the first half of the 20th century. The narrative paintings of the Ajanta Caves (2nd century BC – 5th century AD) marked our first encounter with the embellished image, manifested centuries later in Mughal miniature paintings. Here lay the foundations for several art forms, among which painted photographs are perhaps the most hybrid and contemporary representation.
Photography arrived in India in 1840, almost two centuries after the birth of Mughal art. This exhibition presents examples of hand-coloured photographs from The Alkazi Collection of Photography, spanning a period of almost one hundred years – 1850s to 1940s. The gradual advancement of photography allowed artists to engage with the medium, supplementing ’life’ into a monochromatic image. The earliest example on display is a tinted daguerreotype of an Indian gentleman wearing an elaborate Kashmiri shawl.
The exhibition presents a wide range of images of rulers and subjects from various Indian states, which are embellished with powerful hues of watercolour and oils. Painted photographs exhibitioned by commercial studios, including Bourne & Shepherd, Herzog & Higgins and Shapoor N. Bhedwar, became popular with the civilian population at the turn of the 20th century.
The ateliers of artists and photographers, some of whom remain anonymous, create a niche for this new form of representation, leading to bold transformations in visual arts. For example, the Nathdwara School of painting in Rajasthan developed a regional style mixing photography, painting and ritual performance.
An exhibition of late 19th and early 20th – century photographs from The Alkazi Collection of Photography shows how photography in India marked the beginning of an alternative visual representation and penetrated every aspect of the religious, cultural and courtly life of the princely states. The new medium shifted the manner in which lineage and legacy became identified with iconic images of Indian rulers and their courtiers.
A selection of albums from the state of Rewa illustrates the transference of power from one generation to the next in a traditional court in Central India. Other examples are private records of princely families, which capture the rites of passage from weddings to the birth of children and religious ceremonies. These albums are sometimes the only reminders of the presence of women, who performed crucial but invisible roles within the confines of the palace.
The investitures albums from Indore display the ruler’s civil enterprises associated with his governance.This includes photographs of new buildings, railways, townscapes and educational institutions among others. Through these albums, one can perceive the princely state’s ability to stand independently during colonial rule and to be recognized as a modern state by the British Raj. Alongside modernity, the souvenir albums present images of important shrines in the kingdom, which illustrated the ruler’s inclination with tradition.
Exhibition created with The Alkazi Collection of Photography, New Delhi, Inde.
Exhibition created with the support of the French Ambassy in India.
Facsimiles of the albums created with the support of Photoservice.