Mastering the Lens Mapin Publishing

Mastering the Lens

Before and After Cartier-Bressonin Pondicherry
Curated by Rahaab Allana Introductions by H.E. Mr François Richier The French Ambassador to India Contributions by Shilpi Goswami, Deepak Bharathan, Prof. Kitty Reddy, Jennifer Chowdhry

For many centuries, artists had been travelling to Pondicherry to document its serene vistas—an amalgamation of Christian and local elements in architecture, as well as the urban sprawl.

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For many centuries, artists had been travelling to Pondicherry to document its serene vistas—an amalgamation of Christian and local elements in architecture, as well as the urban sprawl.
Antiquarian maps from the 18th and 19th centuries further reveal an intricately Europeanised town, though segregated between Europeans and Indians, featuring a shared use of motifs and style. The arrival of commercial photographers Bourne and Shepherd, or indeed the mysterious French photographer C. (possibly Charles) Moyne, brings forth an expansive city of citadels and churches, with broadening boulevards lined with trees.

This publication emanates from an exhibition by the same title. It is an attempt to trace the development of photography with some of the other allied visual documents arising from Pondicherry, spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Drawn exclusively from The Alkazi Collection of Photography, at the core of this initiative is the unpublished album by renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, co-founder of Magnum Photos, who visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram in April 1950. He took the last pictures of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh in the company of his spiritual companion, ‘the Mother’. In addition, he meticulously penned his observations, creating a meta-text around the images, which presents a biographical and anecdotal supplement to his photographic endeavour.

The visual material is further complimented by some extraordinary images taken by Indian practitioners from the same period such as Tara Jauhar and Venkatesh Shirodkar at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, published here for the first time. A conscious effort has been made to reveal a non-linear, yet credible visual history of Pondicherry—how it has been witness to the development of a unique photo-graphic history. The use of images as ‘evidence’ and ‘document’ create a subtle interplay between cultural context and artistic intent, a conceptual linking of mannerisms and tropes—those of landscape, architectural and portrait photography.

H.E. Mr François Richier
the French Ambassador to India

E. Alkazi
Chairman, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts

Rahaab Allana
Curator, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts

Shilpi Goswami is the Archivist at the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, New Delhi. She has an M.A. in Museology from the National Museum Institute and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. on the cultural history of the North East.
Deepak Bharathan is Research Scholar at the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts. He has done Masters in Museology from the National Museum Institute, New Delhi. He was earlier Curator at the H.H. Maharaja Sir Jiwajirao Scindia Museum, Gwalior.

Kittu Reddy (b. 1936) came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, at the age of five. He studied at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, and now teaches History, Political and Social Thought of Sri Aurobindo at the same centre. He also closely works with the Indian Armed Forces on Ethical Values.

The photographs in the Alkazi Collection illuminate the progression of socio-political life in the Indian subcontinent, through the interdisciplinary filds of ethnography, architecture, anthropology, topography and archaeology. The images cover a wide range of subjects, starting from the emergence of photography in 1840, and leading up to the rise of modern India and its independence in 1947. In addition, the Collection holds associated images of colonial South Asia that reveal India’s complex cross-border relations with Burma, Nepal and Ceylon. The archive highlights the early history and development of commercial studios, the expansion of official photography under the colonial administration, and the important role played by amateur practitioners in the development of the medium. Prominent photographers featured in the Collection include, among others, Lala Deen Dayal, Felice Beato, Linnaeus Tripe and Samuel Bourne.

• Renewing Ties
• Linking India and France through the Art of Photography

• The Enduring Image

• Silent as an Apparition
• A Hidden Legacy of Photography

• Mastering the Lens
• Before and After Cartier-Bresson in Pondicherry

• Brief Note on Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Photography

• Biography of Photographers

• About the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

• Select Bibliography
ISBN 9788189995737
Pages 84
Number of photographs 77
Size 9.5 x 9" (241 x 229 mm), sc with gatefold
Date of Publishing 2012
Language(s) English
Co-publisher(s) Mapin in association with The Alkazi Collection of Photography Supported by the Embassy of France, India, and Alliance Française de Delhi
Rights Available World rights

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