Bridging the past and present with photographs
The polymath, Rajendralal Mitra (1822-1891), besides being the first Indian Indologist and scientific historiographer from Bengal, was a key figure of the Asiatic Society. He was a pioneer in the field of photography who was elected the secretary and treasurer of the Photographic Society of Bengal in 1856, although he resigned from that position the very next year to protest against racial discrimination. In 1875, he published the volume, Antiquities of Orissa, in which the daguerreotypes he had taken were used. Boi-Chitra Cultural Society, to celebrate Bengal Photography Day 2020 and 150 years of Mitra’s photographs, held an exhibition (January 2-4) at Boi-Chitra gallery of eight digitized copies of Mitra’s work (picture) depicting Odisha temples that had appeared in his renowned book. They were used as a tool for studying archaeology. Mitra was the first to stress upon the importance of indigenous influences on ancient Indian sculpture, for which he initially fell foul of a rich indigo planter. Subsequently, Mitra’s viewpoint prevailed. Many of the temples were overgrown with parasites and were surrounded by thatched huts then. There is not a single human being in sight, although they have attracted pilgrims from time immemorial.
Debashis Dutta, who organized the exhibition, displayed his own colour photographs of the same temples taken from the same spots, which commanded a good view of these ancient structures. Thus a bridge of sorts was created between the past and the present. Changes wrought by time were clearly visible everywhere.
Soumya Sengupta has travelled the length and breadth of the country to document with his camera the various archaeological sites and temples. These photographs were displayed at his exhibition, Vaibhaba (December 26-30), at the museum and art gallery of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Golpark. His photographs of various Hindu temples were good enough. These were supplemented by his shots of various colourful folk festivals and folk dances of Bengal such as the Chhau without which, like the Baul performances, festivals are incomplete today. However, Sengupta was not satisfied. He ‘beautified’ many of the shots by adding fluffy clouds to the skies above.