The images are from the early days of the Raj, right up to India’s independence. The European and Indian photographers featured illustrate the early awakening of the lens to the life of the city during the post-mutiny years.

E. Brooks (Attribution), Begum of Bhopal at the 1911 Durbar, 1911. Photo Courtesy: The Alkazi Collection of Photography

Rahaab Allana, curator, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, says the exhibition has been in the planning for around a year and it was timed to open with the Commonwealth Games. It seeks to provide a monumental history of the city to visitors.

The exhibition has around a hundred photographs on display by photographers such as the legendary Samuel Bourne and Lala Deen Dayal, as well as images from local photo companies such as the Delhi Photo Company.


The Alkazi Foundation’s exhibitions often seek to depict a history of photography in India through the shows. This exhibition too brings forth this pedagogic line of thought.

Photography was introduced in India in the 1840s. From 1855 onwards, there began a gradual setting up of photographic societies in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. The medium received patronage from elite rulers and professional practitioners, as well as the British administration. The history of photography in Delhi is also due in part to the early artists and painters who came to the city. Early picturesque painters such as William and Thomas Daniell spent around 10 years here in the 18th century, travelling the country, often in the footsteps of other itinerant painters, such as William Hodges.

Since Delhi emerged as a city in the immediate aftermath of the mutiny of 1857, most of the sites captured by photographers are those affected by the mutiny. Similarly, with the transfer of power to the British Crown, the Durbars of Delhi in 1877, 1903 and 1911, conducted under the supervision of the three viceroys, led to the visualization of Delhi as an imperial Capital. The exhibition largely comprises photographs of these periods.

Historic Delhi: Early Explorations of the Camera will run from 1 October-7 November at the National Gallery of Modern Art, India Gate, New Delhi.