Reel Records

Sunday, 25 May 2014 - 7:15am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

A book of rare pictures from the storerooms of the Udaipur City Palace Museum records the evolution of the camera and its role in chronicling the life of the royals, finds Amrita Madhukalya

During his stint in India, James Tod, the British political agent to the mewar of Udaipur, had another role to shoulder — that of teaching the functioning of the camera obscura to the mewar's heir, Maharana Kumar Amar Singh. That was in the early 1800s, at least two decades before the obscura's successor, the camera, landed in the country in erstwhile Calcutta.

Needless to say, the mewar's photographic collection documents not only the complex hierarchy and power struggles of Udaipur but also the evolution of the early camera and its role in the documentation of the life of the royals.

The repository of photographs, several boxes of which were found in 2008 in the various storerooms of the City Palace, include commissioned portraits, photographic gifts, negatives, card photographs, albumen and silver gelatin prints, panoramas, Stevengraphs, stereographs, platinum prints, hand-painted photographs and glass plate negatives from the 1850s to the early 20th century. The collection also includes equipment like old cameras and the display of various techniques that married local and indigenous methods like painting, collaging and photo-montaging, which stand as proof of a rare visual vocabulary.

After the boxes were found, archivists and researchers worked on the exhaustive collection of more than 18,000 photos for two years to come up with an exhibition at the museum housed at the palace. Titled Long Exposure: The Camera at Udaipur, the exhibition was launched in 2009. Now, five years after the exhibition comes a book that documents rare photos of life in the Udaipur havelis, royal portraits and the restoration process.

"Materials preserved in these archives will now be shared with Indian and global audiences. It is an ongoing process of channelising the huge archives of our heritage and making it relevant to contemporary times," said Arvind Singh, the mewar of Udaipur.

Along with curator Pramod Kumar KG, the book has been penned by Mrinalini Venkateshwaran with contributions by S Girikumar and Lauren Power.

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