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Arts/Society Royal Exposure: History Through the Camera's Eye Preserved

Discussion in 'Language, Arts & Culture' started by spnadmin, Aug 25, 2009.

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    Royal Exposure
    A new photographic gallery in an old palace provides a fresh paradigm for heritage conservation, says MITA KAPUR

    [​IMG]JOHNSON & HOFFMAN , 1881
    THE ‘LONG exposure’ – that’s what it was. Roger Fenton, the first photographer of war, covered the Crimean War (1853–1856) and produced 360 photographs over less than four months. In the age of digicams, one may shrug off the number as well as the extremity of the circumstances, living as we do in a constant state of ‘instant’ conflict, violence and terror. But Fenton had to carry chemicals, glass plates and dark room tents into a hostile environment to manage this feat. Samuel Bourne photographed the Manirung Pass in the Himalayas — the highest point on earth to be photographed — in 1862. He carried 700 glass plates and came back with 300 good negatives. The beginning of the 19th century saw exciting transformations in the photographic process. The time taken to expose a print came down from 8 hours, first to 30 minutes, and then to two. The idea was to make photography faster, cheaper, better. There was a specific reason why photography evolved the way it did. Just as there was a particular reason why I was standing in the Zenana Mahal of the City Palace of Udaipur, viewing with wonder, the pictorial archives of the Maharanas of Mewar from 1857 to 1957. The images on view as part of Long Exposure: The Camera at Udaipur, 1857–1957, the inaugural exhibition of the new Bhagwat Prakash Gallery at the City Palace Museum, Udaipur, are a veritable sea of stories. For one, the camera arrived in Udaipur several years before photography’s official arrival in India in 1840. The camera obscura, an optical device and a predecessor to the modern-day camera, is known to have been used in Udaipur as early as 1818. Captain James Tod (later Colonel), the intrepid British political agent at the Court of Mewar, explained its functions to amuse the ailing heir apparent, Prince Amar Singh, the older son of Maharana Bhim Singh. From the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, printing on albumen, platinum and gelatin silver became common. Today, the pictorial archives of the Maharanas of Mewar comprise photographic materials ranging from glass-plate negatives to card photographs, photomontages and painted photographs, in which the names of well-known photographic studios — like the Calcutta-based Johnston and Hoffmann and the Mhowbased Herzog and Higgins — stand out. The current exhibition takes us through the reign of five successive rulers of Mewar. The earliest images in the archives can be dated to the reign of Maharana Swaroop Singh (1842–1861), although there are none of the ruler himself. The first known photographs of a Maharana are of Swaroop Singh’s successor, Shambu Singh. The initial exhibits are portraits of the Maharanas and their functionaries, often in the carte-de-visite format (photographs the size of a visiting card), which was the most prevalent form of mass photography at the time.

    The camera came to Udaipur with James Tod, several years before its official arrival in India in 1840.The exhibition is thoughtfully curated and well researched, displaying not just the regalia of the Maharanas of Mewar in court, but also scenes that portray the king in relation to the people of his state. There are some more intimate images as well: like one of Maharana Bhupal Singh with his father Fateh Singh, in the presence of Prince Albert Victor. It is a rare image because it is the only photograph of father and son together — and it acquires even more value as a visual document because during Fateh Singh’s reign, there were no paintings commissioned to document the royal family.

    But as Pramod Kumar, the curator of the gallery, says, “This is a photography show, not just a historical lesson. If it shows the move from feudalism to democracy, it also showcases the evolution of photo journalism.” If photographs from Fateh Singh’s reign are true to the spirit of royal custodianship that characterised the period, images from the post-1947 period show Maharana Bhagwat Singh (b. 1921–1984) with leaders of independent India. Jewel photographs, photographs on platinum impregnated on paper, card-mounted photographs on ceramic plates: different techniques mark several journeys – historical and pictorial.

    This is the first state-ofthe- art photography gallery in all of Rajasthan, with museum specific lights and frames and mount material of acid free archival quality. It also reveals the contributions that many well known painters made to photography, once photography became the art that received royal patronage. A photograph of Fateh Singh in durbar at the Mor Chowk, for instance, was painted over by artist Panna Lal Parasuran Gaud, creating a stunning play of colour and shadows. Another effect that stands out is the adding of colour to the photographic landscape, perfected by famous landscape artist SG Thakkar Singh.

    The gallery, housed in Udaipur’s City Palace, is the first state-of-the-art photography gallery in all of Rajasthan. During Maharana Sajjan Singh’s rule (1874–1884), photography as a discipline provided several alternative formats and media, with a wide range of presentation options. The largest number of portraits using multiple formats, media and sizes were added during his time. There are also beautiful photographs that show off Udaipur as a city of lakes and palaces.

    SHREEJI, Arvind Singhji of Mewar, explains what made him think of creating a state of the art photography gallery within the antiquated precincts of the City Palace in Udaipur. “We cannot look at the city palace as a palace built 500 years ago, full stop. We look at it as a palace built 500 years ago that is still continuing to evolve.” The photography gallery is just the beginning, he points out. “We are planning a silver gallery, a painting gallery and a musical instruments gallery along the same lines.”
    “I’m not saying that properties such as the Taj and the Chittor palace shouldn’t be promoted or conserved, but it’s imperative to understand the importance between a living heritage and a monument. A monument may have a cut-off point, but a living heritage must allow for change if it is to pay for itself. And mark my words, in ten years’ time, this state of the art complex will be what is piggy-backed upon to showcase our heritage.”
    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 34, Dated August 29, 2009
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