Having already seen success in cities like Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Chennai, Convergence, which is part of the Bonjour India 2022 festival, is set to make its way to Mumbai later this year.
‘Monsieur Louis Rousselet in Court Dress, Bhopal’, 1867; “Scene at Ghat” by Marc Riboud, Calcutta, 1956
It cannot be overstated how crucial France’s contribution has been to photography. It was at the beginning of the 19th century that the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce made the photographic process possible, and the 20th century, we can say, belonged to the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. On view at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), New Delhi, through June 30, Convergence: an overview of French photography connections in IndiaAdmittedly exhibits shots that French photographers took in India from the mid-19th century to the 1990s (pre-digital), but the exhibition also testifies to the French photographic talent that came to fill the void between Niépce and Bresson.
Traveling to India in 1956, Marc Riboud, for example, captured the optimism of a newly independent nation. “There is a poetic humanism in the portraits he made during the Punjab Suba movement in 1956, after which the state was divided on the basis of language,” says curator Rahaab Allana, Convergence. At least 60 of Riboud’s works are on display at KNMA, alongside hundreds of other images from the subcontinent, taken by French and European photographers.
Viewed as a whole, the exhibition manages to bring together the ordinary and the iconic – a street photography studio in Patna in the 1970s, an ascetic meditating in a temple in 1955, art students in Santiniketan in 1956, a Bustling Bombay around the 1940s and Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral in 1948. Allana points out that many of the earliest intrepid photographers came from a military or medical background. They practically “learned to use the camera on the go”. It was in 1864, for example, that Louis Rousselet bought photographic equipment in Bombay: “Rousselet did considerable work here. He visited the Begum of Bhopal and explored Gujarat, Alwar, Jaipur and Jodhpur. He met Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II, India’s first photographer king. Ram Singh specialized in self-portraits. Thanks to Rousselet’s book India and its native princes (1876), we now know that they exchanged many notes.
Grandson of theater legend Ebrahim Alkazi, Allana works as a curator at the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts. Passionate about what he calls “the transnational history of South Asian photography”, he has been working for two years on Convergence.
The project really started towards the end of 2020 when Allana received an invitation from the French Institute. By going through the archives of five French museums which gave him access to their
collections, Allana slowly pieced together a visual history of India. Interested in “the bilateralism between the known and the unknown, the acknowledged and the unacknowledged”, he says, “I did not want to adopt a majority point of view. The idea was to tell the story through everyone who was present, whether famous photographers or anonymous.
Having already seen success in cities like Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Chennai, Convergencewhich is part of the Bonjour India 2022 festival, is set to visit Mumbai later this year.