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Desiccated in Time

Malavika Karlekar

By K.G. Pramod Kumar  and Mrinalini Venkateswaran with contributions by  S. Girikumar and Lauren Power
Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, Udaipur, 2014, Rs. 1999.00


In 1864, after a visit to Chamba, British photographer Samuel Bourne commented on the Raja’s interest in photography. Having heard of Bourne’s reputation as an eminent (if racist) camera person, the Raja had enthusiastically shown his prized equipment to the Englishman. Bourne was singularly unmoved. One wonders what his response would have been if he had visited Agartala. As early as the 1850s, Bir Chandra Manikya, Maharaja of Tripura had been taking daguerreotypes, graduating subsequently to the wet collodion process and the glass plate. By the time he started a Photographic Club in Agartala and held annual photography competitions in the palace, Bir Chandra’s reputation as a talented photographer was widely known. Several other native rulers were early photographic enthusiasts—if not as photographers then certainly as subjects. By the 1870s, the studios of Bourne & Shepherd and that of Raja Deen Dayal in Bombay specialized in photographing Indian royalty and elite. Soon, apart from a princely interest in miniature painting, stately homes became the venue for photographic collec-tions. However, as few of these have come into the public domain, not much is known about them.   Long Exposure is an important inter-vention that seeks to redress this information vacuum. The authors of the well-produced volume introduce us to the Pictorial Archives of the Maharanas of Mewar—PAMM or known in short as the Archive and their in-clusion of informed articles makes it a signi-ficant contribution to an understanding of the emerging discourse around photography. Thus it is more than a catalogue of the exhi-bition of the same name held at Udaipur in 2009 that showcased cartes-de-visite, cabinet card photographs, glass-plate negatives, stereographs, albumen and silver gelatin prints, painted photographs and so on from the 1850s onwards. In addition to many more images, the collection includes cameras and other photographic equipment. The camera was there to record formal portraits of rulers, State visits, durbars, weddings, festivals, rites de passage ‘and a constant stream of eminent visitors’. More significantly, as Pramod Kumar notes, the collection is most useful in documenting changing photographic practices and ‘the melding of these new technologies with native and indigenous forms of art’. Interestingly, both local artists and the tradition from the temple town of Nathdwara ‘contributed enormously to the emergence of a new hybrid visual voca-bulary’. Such a vocabulary that privileged elaborate back-drops, ornate furniture, impressive tomes, potted plants and other accoutrements was soon to become the ...

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