One of the most comprehensive photographic records of 19th and 20th century colonial rule, the 85,000 prints in the Alkazi Collection of Photography offer a glimpse of an empire seen from the perspective of its occupants and occupiers. Though the images span several countries, among them Africa, Afghanistan, Myanmar and West Asia, the photographs of India are remarkable for their archival significance. Photography arrived in India a year after its invention in 1839, and its earliest proponents on the subcontinent were often curious amateurs and professionals eager to capture life on India’s muggy and malaria-ridden shores. From albums, single prints and glass plate negatives by Felice Beato, Lala Deen Dayal, Alexander Greenlaw and others, historians have been able to piece together a visual record of the Delhi Darbars, the 1857 uprising, the staged Sikander Bagh (Lucknow) massacre of 1857, various local tribes, and importantly, innumerous public buildings and monuments such as Bashir Bagh Palace, Hyderabad, many now in disrepair or no longer standing.
“When you see the photographs of buildings, you realize exactly what the terrain of the time looked like and it helps create a relation with the written publications of the time. It holds tremendous corroborative significance,” says Nayanjot Lahiri, dean of colleges, Delhi University. Currently housed in three locations—New York, London and New Delhi—the entire collection is gradually being relocated to New Delhi.
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