13 April - 03 May, 2018
The Historian’s Eye – a new exhibition by William Dalrymple that presents a unique collection of photographs taken during the course of his travels across India over the last three years, between 2015 and 2017, while researching his upcoming book.
William Dalrymple is well-known and celebrated for his travel and history writing. His upcoming book, The Anarchy, tells the story of how the East India Company destroyed and replaced the Mughal Empire with Emperor Shah Alam at its helm. Combining his interest in photography and his fascination with history, this exhibition – which is Tasver’s fist time showing Dalrymple – maps the places where history and art were being made in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, around the time of Shah Alam’s reign.
“I’ve been visiting all the places where this history took place – the battlefields and ruins, the mosques, sufi shrines and temples, the paradise gardens and pleasure grounds, the barrack blocks and townhouses, the crumbling Mughal havelis and the palaces and forts. I have travelled from the Red Fort and Jama Masjid of Delhi to the Company’s headquarters in Calcutta, from the capital of the Nawabs of Bengal in Murshidabad to as far South as Tipu Sultan’s base of Srirangapatnam, a fortified island in the Cauvery river between Mysore and Bangalore.”
The Historian’s Eye also showcases other works that come from Dalrymple’s journey searching for fragments of the world of the nawabs; alongside a small selection of photographs from modern-day Pakistan. Rather than a documentation of a true past or history, the photographs propose intuitive connections with his subjects, triggering fictitious memories of an older, different, more elegant world, informed by his own fascination with history and literature, as well as viewers’ residual memories. Each image reveals a narrative tension within itself, between stillness and movement, history and reality. A boy skips down the passage, a cyclist turns at the gate, a hawk circles the dome and three generations of a Kalash family come together in a single frame: the past by turn is present, unveiled, subverted and transformed in the contemporary moment through the historian’s lens.
Dalrymple’s Samsung Edge camera phone left him to rediscover his love for the medium in recent years. All of the photographs in the exhibition have been shot on this phone: “I get a particular pleasure out of the immediacy and the lack of pretension inherent in using a cell phone to record the world around me. For photography should always be about the eye, not the equipment.” Dalrymple’s approach to photography—facilitated by the mobility and immediacy of a camera phone—is intuitive and instinctive, while his aesthetic reflects the sensibility of polished, economical prose, resulting in stark, high-contrast images pared down to their essence.
To commemorate this exhibition, Tasveer has produced an accompanying book, which will be published later this year (Harper Collins India) and will feature reproductions of all of the photographs in the exhibition; alongside a foreword by Raghu Rai and an introduction by Dalrymple.