William Dalrymple has always been one to keep up with the times.
Opulent presidencies from the British Raj, imposing architecture, formidable forts, dashing Rajputs and debonair Mughals: just a handful of images one conjures up while reading William Dalrymple’s (50) books.
After having written acclaimed books such as In Xanadu (1989), The Last Mughal (2006) and Return of a King (2012), the Scottish writer has now turned his attention to reviving one of his earliest passions — photography.
His first book of photographs, The Writer’s Eye, is a collection of 60 black-and-white frames shot over a period of 18 months. And it has been shot on non-traditional equipment, the phablet Samsung Note — something he describes as an excellent little camera tucked away permanently in his back pocket.
Dalrymple says that, much like his writing, his photography is also inspired by his travels. “This collection is a record of a restless year between books, when I took the opportunity to visit some of the world’s remotest places, especially in Central Asia. Themes relating to Mughal architecture, the ruins of Afghanistan, the domes of Golconda run throughout the book.” A major share of his inventory of images has been shot in Ladakh, Kannauj, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Yazd and the deserts of western Iran.
Apart from his book, an exhibition of Dalrymple’s work (curated by bestselling writer and Sensorium Festival co-founder, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi) will open at Sunaparanta: Goa Centre for the Arts in Panjim on March 18.
But while this may be the first time he is professionally venturing into photography, he is not new to the medium. His interest in photography goes back to his childhood, when he received a Kodak camera for his seventh birthday.
And the boy was hooked. He’d spend as many hours developing photographs in the dark room as he spent writing, he says. In fact, he says those who knew him as a teenager, still consider him a photographer and not a writer. “I used to spend a lot of time leafing through photographic books. I particularly admired the bleak and grainy war photography of Don McCullin (British photojournalist) and the landscape work of Fay Godwin (British photographer). But my real hero was Bill Brandt (British photographer and photojournalist), whose brooding images were marked by a stark chiaroscuro, a strong geometrical sense of composition, a whiff of the surreal, and a taste for the uncanny and unsettling.”
And though Dalrymple misses the dark room, he has kept up with the latest photo-editing apps on smartphones: “I am a fan of the app Snapseed. It helps me get the perfect dark, grainy tones for my work. I am also a regular Instagram user,” says Dalrymple, while clarifying he “doesn’t do selfies”.
Not that we’d expect him to.
Dalrymple shot Frozen Frames (all photos untitled) over the course of a year, when he travelled across Central Asia. The Writer’s Eye by William Dalrymple is available for pre-order; publisher: Harper Collins India; pre-order for Rs 999 on amazon.in.