About the Book
explores the development of the embellished image in India through the painted
photograph, a genre that marks a significant chapter in the history of Indian
photography. A crucial embodiment of the colonial encounter,
these images abet the nothion of modernism in
visual practice at the turn of the nineteenth century. Successfully
incorporating existent Indian traditions of illumination in painting, the
painted photograph slowly emerged as a self- sustaining convention that was
also a legitimate expression of popular culture. The bold alchemy of brush and
lens enabled a riveting third artefact, a synthesis of painting, photography
and printmaking-modern art forms that affirmed the links between regional
imperatives, technological innovation and the urban market.
to both indigenous and European styles as well as to the newly evolved
scientific protocols of imaging. ‘native’ commercial
and professional artists and ‘artist-photographers’ steadily developed an
idealised and formal photo-canvas a monochromatic ground the simultaneously
resist and yields to a layered impasto of colour. Meticulously staged and
ornamented photographs gradually initiated a new visual paradigm by catalysing
a form of hyperrealism in both art and photography. These alluring ambivalent
compositions offer and inter-pictorial approach to reality, a remarkable mode
of simulation provoked by cross-cultural aesthetic codes as well as profound
Indian subcontinent, sun-drenched for the greater part of the year, stretches
its vast contours northwards just above the equator.
The torrid light of the sun throws out a challenge and demands equivalent
response. In India that response is through the very stuff of life: colour as
the essence of the lifestyle of the people, their rites, ceremonies and
the rays of the emblem of Surya, the Sun god is represented by turmeric, a
healing herb used to anoint both deity and devotee in the daily worship at
sunrise. Brides wear red, signifying blood, passion, warmth and love, Patterns
in tender leaf-green and celestial blue; entwine in geometric designs to adorn
the garments of princes as well as the common people of India, designating
class, caste, clan and domicile.
the 1840s, photography. invented by the ingenious 'firangi’ (foreigner),
soon found its way to India via its use by the armed forces of the East India
Company The new medium was welcomed with enthusiasm and taken up by native
rulers and the elite as patrons and practitioners. Photography matured into a
thriving profession. Well-equipped studios began operating in the major cities,
catering to middle- and upper-middle-class clientele, while in the 'native'
bazaars enterprising itinerant photographers set up portable booths with a
range of vivid backdrops.
black-and-white image was and still is the pristine preference of the Western
photographer. Scholar, critic and connoisseur.
However, for the 'native' Indian this remarkable invention of the 'Company Bahadur was true to life only when enhanced by the
bewitching touch of colour.
photographic studios developed their own karkhal1as (artists' ateliers and workshops)
much in the manner of the traditional Mughal and regional 'schools' of
painting. They adopted particular styles and devised distinctive provincial
traits and palettes. Some catered to royal patrons whose custom set them
distinctly apart; others found a steady lucrative business in serving the needs
of the burgeoning and prosperous mercantile and professional classes. With its
fantastic painted backdrops of verdant landscapes, royal gardens, rearing
stallions, tempestuous oceans and secret boudoirs, this unique mode of
photography passed into the accepted aesthetic traditions of Indian life and
has survived as one of its most delightful rituals.
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