(Last Updated on : 14/01/2009)
It was during the time of the Imperial legacy that the aspiring Indians were trying to emerge as a fruitful bunch in photography, as by the end of the 18th century and the beginnings of the 19th century, the western civilization was already going places with their collection of photographs. Calcutta being an industrial, education, political and business hub during that era, it was basically in this yesteryear capital city of India that black and white photography sprouted from the budding stage. From Gandhiji to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Shri Rajagopalachari, from Jinnah to Chiang Kei Shek, from Queen Elizabeth to Lord Casey, and of course Raj Bhavan, Victoria Memorial and the cityscape, the camera captured each moment of passing history. By observing the various other landmarks in Calcutta, every photographer had agreed that Calcutta is made for black and white photography. The mood and magic of the moment, the evocative images, could never have been captured in any other medium or in any other place.
Queen Victoria was in fact quite fascinated with her photographs, by some of her hired Indian servants. The photographs depicted the Queen at table with Indian manservants standing by, looking suitably foreign and imposing, pictures of the Queen being served by representatives of her largest colony must have been a matter of pride to the populace. These black and white photographs were the great recorder of the age and medium of choice in a land that not only entranced and enriched the British, but also bewildered them by never being quite what it seemed.
However, photography reached India less than a year after its invention in 1839. By 1865, an exhibition by an Indian in New York attracted thousands of photographs, both amateur and professional, from all parts of India. It included an 1869 Samuel Bourne`s photograph of boisterously rearing horses on a temple façade, to Johnson and Hoffmann`s debonair portrait of the boy Maharajah of Jodhpur, to anonymous hand-painted portraits of men with unruly beards.
Nevertheless, ethnography and anthropology were comparatively new sciences in the later 19th century, and photographers fanned out across the fringe lands in and around India to photograph diversity of tribes and races. The Government moved in on this undertaking. Lord Canning, the first Viceroy of India, set in motion documentation of each person of the subcontinent, apparently as a souvenir for officials returning home. Whatever drawbacks these black and white images had (as was pointed out by the then Secret Department), they bear immense historical importance and sometimes are visually striking. In order to earn extraordinary photographs that emanated a soulful feeling, photographers also had to trek into uncharted territory and made the earliest pictures of the Tibetan Himalayas, including Mt. Everest, which now glorify the walls of museums.
According to ace photographers black and white is such a medium that absorbs almost every colour and tone in the basic colour pattern. Black and white always blends with the atmospheric medium, and is thus easy to develop a print. Photographers from various genres, like fashion, wildlife, city architecture, adventure, underwater, landscape, fine arts or erotic photography swear by the black and white tinge. It strangely, but wondrously renders an image that special feel. And due to these very many reasons, the black and white kind of photography is used by every professional photographer to get their job done aesthetically. To an ordinary person a black and white image might seem uninteresting, and lacking in vibrancy, but the tonal appeal can only be achieved by the visionary mind. The present status looks very much luminous and the future scope for every photographer looks promising. The amount to which the black and white medium is being used in day-to-day photography makes it one of the most elite genres. As is said, `a picture speaks a thousand words`, thus, it can be successfully applied to this present genre, because the look and quality of such a picture emotes a feeling beyond words. In fact, black and white shots are excellently useful while filming character shots for movies. A portrait image can be meticulously given a distinct look with the help of black and white photography. The timeless appeal that these deliver, can never be replaced by its colour counterpart.