Kishore Singh explores the awakening interest in photographic archives seeping through India:
India is beginning to shed its hesitation about the value of such an archive as images get imbued with contemporary value to document our visual histories. In recent times there has been a proliferation of images of our cities as they were photographed in the twenties and thirties — Bombay, or the making of New Delhi, for instance, both of which have gone into the making of books by publishers Roli . These images are researched from archives based not in India but overseas (in this instance, most of the evocative images came from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London).
Back home, museums usually lack the funds or the intellectual curiosity to document their photographic archives, or to share these with the public, but private sources have begun the process of documenting such collections professionally. For many years, the best photographic archives of a royal family were maintained by the Maharaja Ganga Singhji Trust in Bikaner, and are probably still among the most stunning such records available in the country. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik first shot to fame among the international glitterati with a book composed entirely of these photographs.
More recently, the Udaipur royal family turned over its photographic material to professional archivists, as a result of which it has been able to mount a remarkable exhibition. The Ebrahim Alkazi collection, begun several decades ago, has been selectively shown and includes, for instance, the earliest and rarest photographic glimpses of Indian cities, whether cityscapes of Calcutta or ruins in the countryside, the aftermath of the 1857 mutiny in Lucknow, or portraits of the formidable-looking begums of Bhopal. More recently, a Delhi-based art gallery has acquired the archive of photographer Nemai Ghosh’s work on Satyajit Ray — though such acquisitions remain the exception rather than the norm.
A Matter of Record (Business Standard)