Nostalgia never fails to charm and if it is evoked through sepia-tinted images, its effect increases manifold. The recent years record a sustained engagement with the pictorial archives of princely states and their being re-read in a new context. So there have emerged exhibitions around Lala Deen Dayal, who was attached to the court of the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, Alkazi Foundation For the Arts’ book The Waterhouse Albums: Central Indian Provinces and Dawn Upon Delhi chronicling the Capital of the late 19th and mid-20th century belonging to the category partially.
Long Exposure – The Camera at Udaipur, 1857-1957, the latest addition, becomes a window to the lives of Mewar’s Maharanas by delving into the photographic history of the region. Published by the Maharana Mewar Historical Publications Trust, under the aegis of Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation in Udaipur, the book has been co-authored by Pramod Kumar KG, Mrinalini Venkateswaran with contributions by S. Girikumar and Lauren Power.
The authors retrace the history of Mewar Royals and their fascination for the discipline through 235 photographs selected from a mammoth archive. Interestingly, it doesn’t end at being nostalgic (which is also for the purpose of reaching out to the community of students and scholars and the larger public); it presents the archiving process and subsequent study of the collection.
Thirty thousand individual objects constitute the photographic collections of the House of Mewar, which are a part of the Pictorial Archives of the Maharanas of Mewar (PAMM), Udaipur. Selections from the Archive were first showcased during the exhibition, Long Exposure – The Camera at Udaipur, 1857-1957 which opened in 2009 at Bhagwat Prakash Gallery, in a previously unused wing of the Zenana Mahal.
“Materials preserved in our archives are now being shared with Indian and global audiences. It is an ongoing process of channelling the power of our heritage and making it relevant, meaningful to contemporary times. Another thing these photographs convey is the way those people in those times took to a new medium. They embraced it whole-heartedly,” says Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur, who is the current head of the Mewar dynasty.
The book was born while the collection was being digitised, studied and preserved. Stressing the significance of the photographic history of Udaipur, Pramod Kumar KG states, “Historical studies have revealed as early as 1818, over 20 years before the coming of the camera to India in 1840, its precursor the camera obscura, an optical device used to draw visual exactitudes, was in use at Udaipur. Colonel James Tod (1782-1835), the British Political Agent to the Court of Mewar, writes in “Travels in Western India” of how he explained the functions of this device to amuse the Heir Apparent of Udaipur, Maharaj Kumar Amar Singh, the elder son of Maharana Bhim Singh (1778-1828).”
Elaborating on the process, co-author Mrinalini Venkateswaran, says “The first task, then, was to document the archive: easily said but laboriously accomplished, partly because it is first important to understand exactly what is meant to be achieved by such an exercise. A decision was taken to phase the exercise and first focus on the photographic material, as that was the collection that the least was known about. Photography is a relatively new medium, with a history in Mewar dating back only to the mid-19th Century, and historic photographs are only now emerging as a valuable and fascinating arena for research, unlike the celebrated paintings of Mewar for instance, which have been extensively researched and published.”
The book includes a vast range of material like cartes-de-visite, glass-plate negatives, albumen and silver gelatin prints, panoramas, stevengraphs, stereographs, platinum prints, painted photographs and collages depicting formal portraits of rulers, durbars, weddings, religious festivals, rituals and customs. There is a chapter dedicated to cartes-de-visite (card photographs made by taking a number of photographs on a single photographic plate), which form the earliest photographs in the archives. Other sections are devoted to significant rulers like Maharaja Sajjan Singh, Maharana Bhupal Singh, painted photographs, landscapes, architecture and Indian Independence.