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A Visual Treat

Malavika Karlekar

By Alkazi Collection of Photography and Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2010, pp. 88, price not stated.


An elegantly produced exhibition catalogue satisfies the voyeuristic desire in those who were not able to see a particular display—but would have loved to have been there! In the ‘Foreword’, Tasneem Zakaria Mehta tells us that the February-March 2010 exhibition of which this book is the catalogue held in the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum was the first collaborative venture between the Museum and the Alkazi Collection of Photography (ACP). The exhibition presents the work of pioneering Bombay-based photographers, Narayan Daji, brother of Bhau Daji and Shapoor N. Bhedwar as well as others whose photographs are a part of the ACP. The Artful Pose falls short not in terms of production but because it just does not give the reader enough information on what the display was all about. Though the curator, Rahaab Allana’s ‘A Curatorial Note’ does mention that the exhibition begins with ‘a keen recording of native castes and tribes’ that expands into ‘experimentation with portraiture, performance and popular art’, there is no mention anywhere of the number of visuals on display or of all the photographers represented. And it is not as though earlier productions of the ACP has not done so with catalogues that accompany exhibitions based on its amazing and well-organized collection: for instance The Waterhouse Albums: Central Indian Provinces edited by John Falconer (also published by Mapin) based on the two albums of photographs taken by James Waterhouse carries not only a detailed chronology of the life of the photographer but also thumbnail photographs of all the visuals in these albums. The reader cannot but feel that she had almost travelled those dusty cart roads with Waterhouse . . . Not so with the present catalogue. Before the reader thinks that this review is going to be an exercise in nitpicking, I would add that the five essays presented here are in themselves useful additions to the growing corpus of literature around the colonial photograph; however, in the absence of any sense of what the exhibition was really about, they read as a collection of essays and not as contributions to an understanding/remembrance of the event. Of course, the excellent reproductions of a virtual cornucopia of imagery quickly serve to dissipate irritation with the book as catalogue and helps us to concentrate on the book as album. In the first chapter titled appropriately ‘The Dawn of Photography in India: A Complex Legacy of ...

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