Photo Essay: Looking back at Landour
Experimenting with visual memory making, a photographer looks at the hill station named for nostalgia with a vintage filter on her smartphone
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I had heard about Landour in the same way that one hears about people in old photographs. A cantonment town, it got its name from the tiny Welsh village of Llanddowror because it reminded the British soldiers of home when they were fighting the Gurkha Wars with Nepal, from 1814-16.
I was curious about a place that got its name from nostalgia. Just last month, I had restored three typewriters and two analogue cameras from the 1960s, as well as a pinhole camera I had made using a matchbox. What is it about old things that fascinates us? Over the last five years, social media has seen a massive revival in vintage photo filters. It is ironic that we need to be online to experience the visual expression of a time we may never have lived in. The need to alter our present by making use of these photographic filters is not just a cosmetic trend, but an indication of a desire to create memories that appear dated, and perhaps, as a consequence, more meaningful.
Landour’s charming cultural history starring Ruskin Bond, Victor Banerjee, Tom Alter and Vishal Bhardwaj, old churches and graveyards, seemed perfect for an experiment in visual memory-making. Leaving behind my analogue gear, I set out to photograph the place with a smartphone camera, using a vintage filter that had been designed after studying details of the tintype and daguerreotype processes in photography.
The way I saw Landour changed the moment I started looking for the old in the present. The tintype phone app offers three versions of a tintype photograph—one each in sepia, black and white, and an old-world colour version.
For someone who had never visited the place earlier, I had already assigned Landour some nostalgia—a most contested word in contemporary photography. This was my perception of a landscape constructed without past experiences or personal memories. Rather, I chose to employ modern technology; this, in turn, lent itself to an expression of the past.
Perhaps it was the need to recreate an era that now existed only in old photographs that stood still as props in window displays in Landour bazaar’s tiny shops.
Anil Prakash, owner of A Prakash & Co. in Sisters Bazar, Landour. The store was set up in 1928 by his father and Jawaharlal Nehru, who became India’s first prime minister, would often stop by to pick up their home-made cheese and jams.
Originally called ‘The Electric Picture Palace’, this old theatre in Mussoorie is the spot from where one makes one’s way up to Landour. It was established in 1912, the year electricity came to the hill station. Now it also has virtual reality booths for movie-goers (pictured here).
It is not uncommon to find vintage photographs being used as shop-window displays in Landour bazaar.
Dressed in a crisp ‘dhoti-kurta’ on the occasion of the Bengali New Year, actor Victor Banerjee can be seen entering his home,The Parsonage, in Landour. A witty board hanging outside his home reads, ‘Beware Rabid Thespian’.
St Paul’s Church, built in 1839, is where Jim Corbett’s parents got married.
The caretaker’s two-year-old dog, Thiboo, guards the cemetery in Landour which has the graves of 13 soldiers who died in World War I.