Circle-24 publications/ filenumber cpu036
´The Other Way of Seeing´
An exhibition of the work of Indian photographers which clearly shows that their photographic manner of seeing is different to that of the Western world.
Photography was first introduced in India by the maharaja’s to the miniature-painters of their courts. This has been a reason for the ‘royal’ way of portraiture and the painting of the photographs. Also the abundance of information, the use of just one important horizontal and the lack of perspective in composition is often still visible in contemporary photography, which is very story-telling and uses a lot of signs and symbols unknown in the West.
In India the traditional way of building up the picture and visualising is fading more into the background and now melts with all kinds of outside influences. The exhibition will record and preserve this.
Because of historical, geographical and religious influences the traditional way of visualising in India is obvious 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, there will be emphasis on other sources of visualisation like new Indian cinema, classical dance, religion and modern painting.
The exhibition has started in the gallery of the Museum voor Volkenkunde in Rotterdam (Nov.13th 1992 - Feb. 1993). After Galerie 24 in Antwerp (July and August 1993), and the Dept. of Oriental Studies in Leuven (October 1993), the exhibition has also been shown in the Museum for Photography in Denmark.
Each day we are confronted by a continual stream of images and each one of us tries to select the most important in order not to drown in the avalance. 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 18"50" 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 up country 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 Daguerre-type 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 the amateur photographers. In the second half of the nineteenth century there was no clear boundary between freelance amateur photographers and professional photojournalists.
Photography in India was, and is still, more a pictorial narrative than in the West. The picture covers different elements, which simultaneously attract the 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, which 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 photo’s in their own special way. The object, the photo itself, is never found to be of importance or of value.
The appreciation for old and contemporary Indian photography is of historical significance, an appreciation which will radiate as far as India.
By emphasing this difference, not only do we become acquainted with their way of seeing, but we become more aware of how traditions in the West started.
Robert Schilder, -nov. 1992
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