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Photo history of a place cannot be re-written: Raghu Rai

Inaugurating an exhibition featuring digital reproductions of 96 gelatin silver photographic prints from the collection of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Rai said, “…history is written and it is being re-written now. We all know that. But this photo history cannot be re-written. These images left by our great masters are like our culture and heritage.”

The exhibition titled ‘Frozen in Time: Late 19th and Early 20th Century Photographs of Calcutta and its Neighbouring Areas’ will continue till September 1.

Ninety-six digitally restored photographs taken from the collection of Bourne and Shepherd and Johnston and Hoffmann and later in the possession of Victoria Memorial are on display at the exhibition.

Bourne and Shepherd was the largest commercial studio in the city during British rule while Johnston and Hoffmann was the second largest commercial studio. “They are exhibiting something so precious. Photography today is the art of tomorrow. It is something very unique for us,” Rai said.

The digitally reproduced black and white photographs were taken from negatives of pictures clicked between 1860 and 1930. The photographs offer glimpses of the Esplanade Mansion, the old Howrah bridge, a view near Kalighat temple, Durga Puja procession, view of Government Place East with Great Eastern Hotel seen from a distance in the early 1880s, a view of Chowringhee Road from the then Ochterlony Monument.

After viewing the exhibits, Rai said, “The photos show how things were and how crowded and chaotic things have become today.” Differentiating between paintings of old Kolkata and photographs of that time, Rai said if one imagines a mood shot of Chowringhee Square by great painters such as Hussein, Satish Gujral or Jamini Roy, it is described as good or wonderful. “But when you see these old photographs taken 150-160 years ago, the response is totally different. The first thing that comes to your mind is — Oh my God’ that’s the way it used to be.”

Victoria Memorial Curator Jayanta Sengupta said, the process to hold the exhibition began three months back. Of the digitally restored photographs on display, 27 negatives were in the collection of Bourne and Shepherd and the rest 69 prints were created by Johnston and Hoffmann.

Al the photographs were bought from the studios by the Victoria Memorial at different points of time, he said.

The exhibition was curated from the collection of the Victoria Memorial by Ranu Roychowdhury, a historian of photography and art and Assistant Professor at IIT Guwahati. 


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