History of India, photography through albums

There are 19th century Himalayan landscapes by Samuel Bourne, one of the earliest photographers in India; images of the aftermath of the 1857 Uprising by Felice Beato; and now-iconic studio shots by Lala Deen Dayal.
A photograph of Maharani of Pratapgarh.(HT)
A photograph of Maharani of Pratapgarh.(HT)
Updated on Jan 24, 2018 09:46 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai

Back in the 1970s, when Paul Abraham was barely a teen, his father gifted him a bottle holding 10 coins from the princely southern state of Travancore. The coins fascinated him; he ended up getting interested in coins from the Mughal period, and ancient Indian mints. This in turn fueled a love for vintage maps (how else to understand old names and regions?), antique engravings, photographs and books.

Abraham, chief operating officer of a national bank, still has that old bottle. But his collection now covers more than 3,000 objects. Roughly 200 images, and six photo albums make their way to Pundole Art Gallery in Ballard Estate for Portrait of a Nation, A Nation in Portraits. The show aims to tell both the history of India and of photography.

There are 19th century Himalayan landscapes by Samuel Bourne, one of the earliest photographers in India; images of the aftermath of the 1857 Uprising by Felice Beato; and now-iconic studio shots by Lala Deen Dayal. The frames take in monuments and heritage sites, royals and people at work, tribals and religious sects.

One image stands out for Abraham, a silver albumen print of Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate from 1858. “I studied in Delhi and I’d pass the gate on the bus to college,” he says. “Its significance hit me only as an adult, when I saw this image.”

The shot was taken just after India’s first fight for independence, when the British recaptured the gate from Indian soldiers. “It’s where a battle was won, only for a war to be lost 90 years later [with India’s independence],” Abraham adds.

Abraham calls his collection Sarmaya (Urdu for Collective Wealth), and it also includes folk, tribal, modern and contemporary art acquired by his late wife, Tina.

“We have a rich legacy, and there are now many efforts to source Indian objects abroad and bring them home,” he says. “We have to see, learn and appreciate them to truly understand Indian diversity.”

WHAT: Portrait of a Nation, A Nation in Portraits

WHEN: January 24 to February 28, 10 am to 6 pm (Mondays closed)

WHERE: Pundole Art Gallery, Hamilton House, 8, JN Heredia Marg, Ballard Estate

Entry is free

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rachel Lopez is a a writer and editor with the Hindustan Times. She has worked with the Times Group, Time Out and Vogue and has a special interest in city history, culture, etymology and internet and society.

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