An exhibition of the work of Indian photographers which clearly shows that their photographic manner of seeing is different from that of the Western world.
Because of historical, geographical and religious influences, the traditional way of visualizing in India is obviously different.
At the same time, this exhibition will do justice to the high level which has been attained by contemporary Indian photography, a fact which not only in Europe, but also in India is hardly known.
This unique exhibition has been made by a very select combination of collections and archives of important ancient and modern Indian photography and a contribution of contemporary photographers.
Most of the photographs have never been shown before. Also, by means of videos and a publication, emphasis has been given on other sources of visualization like new Indian cinema, classical dance, religion and modern painting.
The exhibition started in the gallery of the Museum voor Volkenkunde in Rotterdam and has been on show in Antwerp, Leuven (Belgium), The Hague and Danmarks Fotomuseum.
Each day a continual stream of images and each one confronts us of us tries to select the most important in order not to drown in the avalanche. This multitude of information also offers the possibility to compare different styles of photography. Then by looking in an open-minded way from equivalent perspectives, it is interesting to observe how photography in different cultures has developed in another way. Each person is part of his or her social surroundings and that has influenced their way of "seeing"
In 1939 in Paris, Louis Daguerre introduced his invention of photography to the world and six months later India became acquainted with the medium. No one at that time could have predicted what influence it would have. Photography was introduced in India by travelling photographers from Europe and members of the British Army. The maharajas also contributed to the spread of photography. With their great riches, they brought European photographers to their courts and as early as 1850 some miniature painters in the royal households were calling themselves the first photographers. Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur, for example, gave lessons in the studio of his palace.
British army officers in India were often stationed upcountry and had time enough for their hobbies, one of which was photography. They had a great deal to do with propagating photography throughout India. As early as 1840 Daguerreotype cameras were being imported into Calcutta. More and more people wanted their portraits made and very soon some foreign photographers set up commercial studios in a few of the larger cities, and later they imported and sold equipment and paper.
The Calcutta firm Bourne and Shepherd published a catalogue in 1866 of 1.500 photographs of monuments and landscapes and in Europe photographs of India´s cultural and natural riches were greatly sought after.
The large well-equipped British studios enjoyed great popularity, this made it difficult for the small Indian businesses to compete and survive. Apart from this, photographers in India had to contend with difficult tropical conditions and the stocks were not always at their best. They had to experiment with the material they could get hold of.
The introduction of a new portable camera and the dry film process made the medium accessible and popular, especially for amateur photographers. In the second half of the nineteenth century, there was no clear boundary between freelance amateur photographers and professional photojournalists.
In India at that time it was more a matter of recording an event, now many people take photos, but usually, only those who want to tell something are photographers.
" The Other Way of Seeing"
Photography in India was, and is still, more a pictorial narrative than in the West. The picture covers different elements that simultaneously attract attention. Very seldom does one see a close-up. Painted photo´s derived from miniatures, are static and look more like a portrait. Often there is one important horizontal element which makes the photo flat or "still".
Without exception, the subject looks openly in the camera. Sometimes with a look of wonder, as though fascinated by the magic eye, a wonderment that has long been lost in the West. Together with other elements that cannot easily be described,
the picture acquires something mysterious, and the question is how much of the meaning remains hidden from us. Perhaps it is comparable to Indian music, as though the accent is placed somewhere else. Perhaps this difference comes from the familiarity the Indians have with the images of their Gods. In religion, it is not unusual to decorate the images with pieces of material, ornaments or real hair.
In every interior religious images and those of the family are hung high on the wall and are decorated with garlands of
flowers and joss sticks.
People in India look at photos in their own special way. The object, the photo itself, is never found to be of importance or of value.
An exhibition of Indian photography