An art form that radically altered thought and aesthetics through the expression of truth

Photographs are the central theme of two exhibitions—one an ode to two centuries of camerawork and another a historian’s trail through ancient India

Published: 07th November 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th November 2021 01:58 PM   |  A+A-

French artist Philippe Calia’s work from the series, ‘The Shape of Clouds’

In his 2013 memoir Levels of Life, Booker Prize-winning English writer Julian Barnes places photography as the first of the three supreme emblems of modernity in the early 19th century, the other two being electricity and aeronautics. Narrating the adventurous shooting of the earth from the sky by French aeronaut Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, Barnes says photography was a sudden, contemporary art that achieved technical excellence very quickly, like jazz.

Nearly two centuries after French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the first photograph in history, the world is getting ready to celebrate the moment of triumph. Two major exhibitions in the national capital were dedicated to photography, an art form that radically altered thought and aesthetics through the expression of truth. The first, ‘Unsealed Chamber, The Transient Image’, had artists Aparna Nori, Arpan Mukherjee, Indu Antony, and Philippe Calia. ‘In Search of Ancient India’, the second, was a solo exhibition by Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple.

artwork from the series ‘Ivar’ in salted paper print

Mounted at the Romain Rolland Gallery of the Alliance Française in Delhi, Unsealed Chamber marked the 195th anniversary of Niépce’s invention of photography. The works of the featured artists relied heavily on processes of photography used in the 19th century to create a nostalgic link with the community of early practitioners of the art. The artworks were also influenced by the explosion of technology in the 21st century and the pressures brought about by the pandemic.

“I wanted to slow down,” says Bengaluru-based artist Antony, reflecting on the painstakingly slow salted paper print method used to make her 28 photographic works, titled ‘Ivar’. The salted paper print technique, invented by British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot in 1835, takes eight hours to make one print. “The prints were created during the second wave of Covid-19. I was filled with anxiety during this time and printmaking became a meditative process,” adds Antony. Her works on display were prints of photographs of women collected from second-hand shops and kabadiwalas over a decade.

Nori, who like Antony used the salted paper print method, combined digital and analogue photography in her works. “It is a personal project. I have made images of myself digitally and in the printmaking process used the salted paper technique,” says Nori. Each of her 15 works at the show, from the series ‘Nalla Pilla’, was a starting point to talk about the body as a site of experience. “It is a way to explore how to externalise these experiences.” 

Santiniketan-based artist Arpan Mukherjee used the 19th century calotype and cyanotype photography techniques for his works, titled ‘Gola Vora Dhan’ (which means your grain storage is full). “I do think that the older methods of photography have a lot to offer,” he says. Invented in the 1840s, calotype was the first photographic process in which the idea of a negative was used.

“It was also the method primarily used by the colonial photographers to document India. All the important monuments, including the Taj Mahal, were clicked several times using this process,” adds Mukherjee. French artist Philippe Calia questions the medium of photography in his series ‘The Shape of Clouds’. His inkjet prints on natural paper were Google Earth images that questioned the current technological regime of digital imaging and cloud storage. “We delegate memory to machines. Machines multiply our capacity to remember, but it also reduces our skill of remembering,” adds Calia, who lives in Bengaluru. “Eventually we need a balance; maybe everything doesn’t need to be recorded.”

‘In Search of Ancient India’ at the Vadehra Art Gallery highlighted the first stage of Dalrymple’s travels around India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for his new book, The Golden Road, which aims to record the artistic and cultural achievements of ancient India between 200 BC and 1200 AD. “I am still continuing the research, which was delayed by the pandemic,” says Dalrymple. “I hope to start writing early next year and finish by the end of the year.”

Window View

French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, in 1827, after several failed attempts, successfully used a camera obscura to capture an image from the window of his home in eastern France.

The image titled ‘View from the Window’ is the oldest photograph in history.

His first photograph on an unetched tin plate gave the world a new art form.
 



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