Photos & text: Sarmaya

These photographs are from the exhibition, Portrait of a Nation; A Nation in Portraits, a 19th Century photography of the Indian Subcontinent. The photos are taken from the collection of Sarmaya Collection. Curated by Madhavan Pillai, these images are from Sarmaya—a non-profit organisation that works in the development of arts, collected over time by its founder Paul Abraham.

According to Abraham, “I was struck by the extraordinary effort required to capture these images in the early days of photography by stalwarts like Samuel Bourne, James Burgess, Lala Deen Dayal and Felice Beato. Today when we use our mobile phones and click away, we forget that once upon a time, every photograph was an adventure. It often meant 30-40 people carrying equipment weighing as much as 50-100 kilos at times and containers filled with chemicals, setting up base in hostile and lonely territory. The people who created these gems were often draughtsmen, pastors, photojournalists, explorers, chemists and others. They experimented with technique and brought to bear a sense of adventure, passion and aesthetics to capture moments in time often for a transnational audience who saw in them visuals of a distant land and for whom, some of these were memories to cherish.”

Portrait of a Nation, A Nation in Portraits is on view at Pundole’s Art Gallery in Mumbai till 24 February