The transition happened in the mid-1800s,when the easel was replaced with the camera,and the court painter with the photographer. Years before India witnessed the 1857 Uprising,in its heartland,Lucknow,Ahmad Ali Khan was documenting his surroundings through a little-known medium. Master of daguerreotype,he holds the distinction of being one of the earliest Indian photographers.
In 1855,he might have created history when he photographed Nawab Raj Begum Sahibah of Oudh. Seated with her hands on her lap,her eyes looking down,she was perhaps one of the first Indian royals to be photographed. Now,the
image has resurfaced. It is one of the over 240 photographs that feature in the publication Posing for Posterity: Royal Indian Portraits (Roli Books,Rs 1,975).
The images are representative of the genre of Indian photography portraiture. Most of them have never been published before, says author Pramod Kumar KG,managing director of Eka Archiving
Services,a Delhi-based museum consulting company. Months were spent sifting through photo archives across the world from the British Library and Leiden University Library,Netherlands,to the Royal House of Mysore.
The aim is to understand the last
180 years through photographs. We wanted to know how these pictures were taken,what were they used for,and the changing attributes of photography, notes Kumar. Through the sepia,he gives a glimpse into the past.
The publication has no formal categorisations but Kumar binds the photographs in a manner that they appear compartmentalised the royal heirs,the rulers,the queens,and them together. Each photograph is accompanied by details,which suffice at times,but on other occasions,leave one asking for more.