The presence of the camera in Udaipur predates the arrival of photography in India in 1840. The camera obscura, an optical device and a predecessor to the modern day camera, is known to have been used in Udaipur as early as 1818 by Captain James Tod (later Colonel), the intrepid British political agent at the Court of Mewar during the reign of Maharana Bhim Singh (r. 1778 – 1828).
The Pictorial Archives of the Maharanas of Mewar are comprised of photographic materials ranging from glass-plate negatives, card photographs, photomontages, and painted photographs. Printing processes like albumen, platinum and gelatin silver extending from the mid 19th to the early 20th centuries are well represented. The collection also includes cameras and other photographic equipment from this period. Photographs in a variety of evolving technologies continue to be added to the Archives on a regular basis, extending the scope of the collection to the contemporary digital age.
This exhibition provides a photographic overview of the reign of five successive Maharanas of Mewar at Udaipur captured through the lingering gaze of the camera. The earliest images in the Archives can be dated to the reign of Maharana Swaroop Singh (b. 1815, r. 1842 – 1861), although there are none of the ruler himself. The first known photographs of a Maharana are of his successor, Maharana Shambu Singh (b. 1847, r. 1861 – 1874). The initial exhibits are thus portraits of the Maharanas and their court functionaries, often in the carte-de-visite format, the most prevalent form of mass photography at the time.
By the time Maharana Sajjan Singh (b. 1859, r. 1874 – 1884) came to the throne, photography as a discipline provided several alternative formats and media, with a wide range of presentation options. This enthusiastic patron of photography died tragically young, leaving behind a rich legacy of photographs, with the largest group of portraits in the Archives across different sizes being from his brief reign.
The photographic chronicles of Maharana Fateh Singh’s (b. 1849, r. 1884 – 1930) long reign of forty-five years provide insights into his exemplary rule. His great reluctance to be seen at gatherings orchestrated by the British did not come in the way of his extending every courtesy to his guests, and the many State Visits that Udaipur hosted stand testimony to this. All his photographs exude this graciousness, as well as his personal dignity and rectitude.
Maharana Bhupal Singh (b. 1884, r. 1930 – 1955), heir-apparent, was extensively photographed from his infancy and onwards. One of the first rulers in princely India to accede to independent India, photographs from his reign show him in close contact with people, demonstrating the change in the visual depiction of a ruler, from a distant leader to a more approachable figure.
Photographs from the post 1947 period show Maharana Bhagwat Singh (b. 1921, r. 1955 – 1984) with leaders of independent India, and his active endeavor to keep the development of Mewar in focus within the Indian Union.
Providing the setting for the numerous images seen here is the unique topography of Udaipur. Its network of lakes, pleasure pavilions and palaces dotting the landscape has always stimulated the imagination, of residents and visitors alike. It is this much-photographed ‘image’ along with Mewar’s singular history as exemplified in this exhibition that add to a visitor's experience.
About the Archive
In 2008, the photographic materials held at the Pictorial Archives of the Maharanas of Mewar were digitized and archived. The Bhagwat Prakash Photo Gallery was established within the City Palace Museum in March 2009. Today, it is a centre for the dissemination of this rich holding of visual material culture with the collection now being made available for research and the scholarly community, and through exhibitions to the museum-going public and wider community.
Tinted by Tradition: Hand-coloured Photographs at the City Palace Udaipur/ Waswo X. Waswo & Rajesh Soni
November 2011 - April 2012
The syncretistic coming together of painting and photography was attempted from the early years of the invention of modern photography in 1839. Glass plate negatives and photographs were regularly touched up to create improved photographic prints using lens coatings and a variety of dark room technologies. A second and more fecund form of art was to emerge with the addition of a layer of colour to the printed photographic image.Curated by Pramod Kumar KG of the New Delhi-based museum consultancy Eka, this exhibition articulated the continued tradition of painted photographs in Udaipur through the works of Waswo X. Waswo and Rajesh Soni, contextualized via examples from the large oeuvre of work of their predecessors maintained at the Pictorial Archives of the Maharanas of Mewar.