The Big Picture

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From Bombay’s pioneering photographers to Himalayan interiors, from fashion to Indian troops in Europe. Coffee table beauties of the season
EARLY BOMBAY PHOTOGRAPHY | Susan Hapgood | Mapin Publishing | 144 pages | Rs 1,950

There is a valuable chronicle of an important period in Indian photography history in Early Bombay Photography by Susan Hapgood. Whether the photographer is an early Indian like Shivshanker Narayen or Raja Deen Dayal, or unknown—as, sadly, is the case for a few of the best photographs—or a non-Indian, like William Johnson or Edward Taurines, the images in this collection document an early love affair with this artform. ‘British colonizers and indigenous Indians were both active within just a few years of the medium’s invention,’ says the author, of the 60-year period she describes in this book, looking at archival documents, ethnographic studies, artefacts, works of art and much more. Hapgood, an art historian and curator who founded the Mumbai Art Room, has created a useful record in her focus on Mumbai, which was her home for a while.

1914-1918: INDIAN TROOPS IN EUROPE | Santanu Das Mapin Publishing | Pages 156 | Rs 1,850

As we witness life a century after World War I, new remembrances of India’s part in the World Wars accumulate and provide a whole new register of that time. Santanu Das’ 1914-1918: Indian Troops in Europe adds to our visual records of the time. There are few books which collect so many unusual images together so effectively; take the affecting image of Sikh soldiers being treated in make- shift European hospitals; or the Indian women in London trying to raise money for their men at the front. ‘There is often an impulse today to retrospectively turn these colonial soldiers into “heroes” and “martyrs”, even though many enlisted to keep debtors at bay and had a conflicted relationship to their job,’ the book reminds us, acknowledging that these commemorations are, ultimately, accounts of bloodshed and violence.’ Das, the author of several books on World War I, has a new book, India, Empire and the First World War: Words, Images and Objects, out this year.

HIMALAYAN STYLE | Thomas L Kelly and Claire Burkert | Lustre Press - Roli Books | 304 pages | Rs 2,975

This is a collation of mountain aesthetics in a series of essays ranging from India to Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan; it looks both at ancient Himalayan architecture and new projects in restoration and design. Photographer Thomas L Kelly’s 600 photographs are particularly adoring of Nepal, his long-time home. Author Claire Burkert, who created a project to promote Maithili art and craft, offers context; moving from historical structures to the edifices of religious belief to the decorative detail of craftsmanship. Some of the modern accommodations, too, in a part of the book titled ‘Himalayan Retreats and Trails’, bring the stark beauty of these often- isolated dwellings alive. The detail is specific and abundant for the specialist—‘The gilded canopy roofs of the Potala Palace are topped with spires (ganjira) symbolizing connection to the cosmos’—but complemented by passages about the tangible appeal of the stupas, mandalas and museums of this part of the world.

FACES AND PLACES | Deepak Nayyar | Roli Books | 160 pages | Rs 1,495

This variety of portraits and landscapes from acclaimed economist Deepak Nayyar is a personal selection of the author’s photographs over four decades. Emeritus Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, Nayyar is also Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi. Ranging from Mexico City and Moscow to Samarkand and Jodhpur, his black- and-white and colour images trace his many journeys through the world, as do his portraits of people from all walks of life. Regular folk, unusual faces, exotic landscapes and different monuments add to the varied perspectives represented here.

India: Contemporary Design: Fashion, Graphics, Interiors | Divia Patel | Roli Books | 256 pages | Rs 1,495

A stylish guide to the history of Indian design as a modern and contemporary phenomenon, India: Contemporary Design shows us ‘symbols of the post- liberalization creative awakening’. Moreover, it covers fashion, graphics and interiors in India in a definitive acknowledgement of today’s pioneers, from milliner and designer Little Shilpa to the unique aesthetic of Tara Books to The Busride Design Studio, which gave us Smoke House Deli’s charming interiors. A curator at the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Patel uses her expert knowledge and appreciation of cinema graphics, photography, contemporary art, design and paintings to showcase popular culture and evolving design in India. This viewpoint is exemplified in her appreciation of work by designers like Studio Mumbai’s Bijoy Jain, offering ‘a powerful form of localization’.