Holy Djinn! William Dalrymple Turns Into a Photographer With a Dark Side

Photos documented from his travel across unfathomable regions of Afghanistan, Iran, Tibet, Ladakh, parts of C. Asia found place in \'The Writer\'s Eye\'.

Published: 31st March 2016 12:39 PM  |   Last Updated: 31st March 2016 01:36 PM   |  A+A-


NEW DELHI: Noted writer and historian William Dalrymple, who recently rediscovered his long lost passion for photography was "surprised" at how the photos he took while on his travels turned out to be dark - even darker than his narratives of crumbling empires and perishing dynasties.

Over 50 black and white photographs by the Scottish author documented from his extensive travel across unfathomable regions of Afghanistan, Iran, Tibet, Ladakh and other parts of Central Asia have found place in a new book titled, "The Writer's Eye" (Harper Collins).

"I am surprised how dark and drastic some of the images are. My writing is not strictly dark. It seems to draw on a different side of me. It is a rather dark, more extreme vision of the world, but the photographs are darker.

"I am not a dark character. I am a lively person in my private life and I spend most of my life laughing. There are some sad stories (in writing) but there is a lot of humour too in books like 'The City of Djinns.' But I am surprised at the shots. They are all dark," Dalrymple told PTI.

He believes that his photography showcases a "palette" that is different from the one visible in his writing, despite drawing inspiration from the same travels and the common themes of Mughal architecture, ruins of Afghanistan and domes of Golconda among others.

"The photographs show a taste for the dark and remote, the moody and the atmospheric, perhaps even the Gothic, that I don't think is there in my books or articles and which slightly surprises even me," he writes in the book.

For Dalrymple, who turned 51 about a week ago, it was "completely thrilling" to foray into a new avenue and "find something else that I could do at the age of 50."

With 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron as his great great aunt, the art of photography was certainly something that Dalrymple inherited genetically.

Beginning at the tiny age of 7 with a Kodak camera, he graduated to a Contax 35mm SLR with Carl Zeiss lens within few years.

"Ever since I started writing, my photography languished and died," he says.

But, what took a back seat decades ago, with his writing flourishing over the years, has recently resumed precedence in the last 18 months, as the author has been photographing profusely alongside researching for his upcoming book, "The

Anarchy," that documents the 60 years of East India Company's imperial rule over India.

"I have always been a photographer but it is something that I have rediscovered in the last 18 months. Part of it is because I haven't been writing. I have been researching for my book and travelling widely to places that have lent themselves quite well for photography too," he says.

Dalrymple currently uses the camera of his Samsung Note phone to click pictures.

Dalrymple's rekindled rendezvous with photography started with sharing pictures with friends over Facebook and have now "taken a new life of their own."

"It is very exciting to see the works developing and then how they were put on the front cover of the Creative Image magazine (by Raghu Rai). I began to take it seriously as other people began to take it seriously," he says.

But, he insists that he is essentially a writer rather than a photographer, and adds, "there are many ways you can live your life."

"No question, I am a writer. That's my day job. But, these days one can be anything. I have been at different times - a foreign correspondent, a historian, a feature writer, critic, a documentary film maker and co-founded the Jaipur Literature Festival," he says.

The award-winning writer who has produced stunning charcoal-painting like photographs of landscapes besides those chronicling the routine lives of people in several countries, prefers black and white photography to colour because the former, he says, is "powerful and can really pack a punch."

"There is something about the monochrome intensity of black and white. It seemed a much more daring and exciting world, full of artistic possibilities and allowed me to develop and edit my own prints," he says.

He also prefers using a phone camera to a more elaborate professional set up with multiple equipments for lighting, exposure etc.

"I love the lack of pretension in it. It is very discreet. It goes with you. No one knows you are taking a picture and gives you terrific freedom," he says.

A collection of caption-less photographs (published in the book) by Dalrymple were also exhibited at Vadehra Art Gallery here recently, after a show at Sunaparanta: Goa Centre for the Arts.

"The curator did not want them to be documentation of travels but sheer works of art. Whether for good or for bad, it was the curator's decision," he says.

Curated by bestselling writer and Sensorium Festival co-founder, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, "The Writer's Eye" will next travel to London to host a show at the Grosvenor Gallery in June 2016.

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