India Insight

First pictures of Taj Mahal to ‘Hairy family of Burma’: subcontinent photos from 1850-1910

August 22, 2014

A new exhibition in India’s capital showcases some of the earliest photographs from South Asia, taken between 1850 and 1910 when the region was under British rule.

Around 250 images from India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal are on display at the “Drawn from Light: Early Photography and the Indian Sub-continent” exhibition in New Delhi.

Dr. John Murray’s images of the Taj Mahal are recognized as the first-ever photographs of the monument. The surgeon, who was employed with the East India Company, took the pictures between 1858 and 1862.

“[The exhibition] shows there was great conflict. We’ve got photographs of the famine that was hitting India while the elite cultures were developing. On the other hand they showed a kind of confluence of cultures because there were European artists or photographers who were documenting the royalty and the rising middle class,” said Rahaab Allana, the exhibition’s curator.

The photographs were collected by the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts from various sources over the years including through auctions, dealers and donations.

 Lala Deen Dayal was the court photographer to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, who conferred the honorary title of Raja upon him. He was also appointed as the photographer to the Viceroy of India in 1885.

Apart from India, the exhibition features a series of cityscapes and portraits from neighbouring countries that highlights the life of people in their socio-cultural setting or a studio.

“They ['The Hairy family of Burma'] were considered to be good omen, so various people had themselves photographed with them,” said Allana.

The exhibition also included hand-coloured photographs, where artists paint over black-and-white photographs as coloured photography was not available at the time.

The exhibition is organized by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in collaboration with The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts. It runs till September 30.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Robert on Twitter @bobbymacReports and David @davidlms25 | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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