Photographer Clark Worswick's Picks from The Great Within

photographs-india-char-minar.jpg
Launch Slideshow

Photographer and founding curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum Clark Worswick’s romance with 19th-century photographs of India began one hot summer in 1959, when he saw photographs of scenes of Calcutta. Upon realizing that these exceedingly rare images were in poor shape, too fragile to display, he created a limited edition series of prints using modern digital techniques. After 60-plus years of collecting and “reimagining” these photographs, Worswick now shares his picks from Sotheby’s Selling Exhibition of 19th-century photographs of India.

The Great Within: Photographs of India and the British Raj in the 19th Century
14–29 March | New York

 

Photographer Clark Worswick's Picks from The Great Within

  • Raja Deen Dayal, Secunderabad Studio, Hyderabad / Clark Worswick, Three Acrobats of the Chatri Circus. Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    Little is known about the Chatri Circus or its members. Photographed by Raja Deen Dayal, they probably were part of one of the many companies of itinerant acrobats and circus performers’ travelling the Nizam’s dominions during the 19th century. With a few tents and animals that included dancing bears and lions, the stories of these traveling circus companies, as they moved from town to town through a now lost time, is a narrative only photography could capture. What is arresting about this picture is that it can be viewed either right side up or upside down, without lessening the mystery of the picture. As a collector, it is a picture that one can own for years and never really understand how it works as a composition, nor can one fathom the mechanics of its wonderful attraction.
  • Samuel Bourne, Bourne & Shepherd & Co., Calcutta / Clark Worswick, View of the Dhul Canal, Kashmir (Gold Medal Picture, Bengal Photographic Society, 1864). Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    Colin Murray made this picture in the beginning of the 1870s in Udaipur. It depicts five men and their boat, with the Maharaja’s Pichola Lake Palace behind them. To my mind, without doubt, this miraculously preserved picture, out of the few prints that survive of this image, is one of the great pictures of 19th-century India. Sadly and ironically, like many photographs of this time, most prints of this picture were faded into oblivion due to the acidic firm-produced albums of the period, in which they were placed. The transcription into a digital carbon of this particular print was derived from the best preserved print known. It was printed and never mounted in the 1880s by a photographer of the Bourne & Shepherd firm, then held in his personal collection. In the mid-1990s it was sold by the photographer’s descendants, a century after it was created.
  • Raja Deen Dayal, Secunderabad Studio, Hyderabad / Clark Worswick, Two Princes and Three Attendants at Court, Hyderabad. Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    In 1978, an Indian photographer invited me to Hyderabad to view the pictures of his grandfather, Raja Deen Dayal, who had been the Court Photographer to the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Premier Prince of India and then the richest man in the world. After decades of guarding his work, Ami Chand Deen Dayal, exhausted by the indifference to his grandfather’s long dedication to photography, offered to sell me not only Deen Dayal’s archive, but also his cameras and his negatives.

    Now, decades later, if one were to ask me about my favourite photograph among the many treasures in this archive, I would reply: “It was not actually a picture, but half a picture.” I remember, on the third day of going through Dayal’s archive, I discovered a photograph of three attendants and two headless princes who were posed in front of a screen. At some time in the past the picture had been ripped in half. All that was left of this magnificent photograph, ripped, missing its edges and shredded, was this fragment. Days later going through the last of literally thousands of pictures (now in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts) I turned over a small packet of pictures. Inside this last group was the top half of my favorite picture – two princes and their attendants posing in Central India in a moment that disappeared more than a century ago.
  • Samuel Bourne, Bourne & Shepherd & Co., Calcutta / Clark Worswick, The Spiti Valley from Dunkar – Evening. Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION


    In the Spiti Valley, beyond the most remote villages near Dunkar, Samuel Bourne created this picture that is one of the sparest, modernist pictures ever taken. Nothing can be taken out of it. Nothing can be added. It was created 152 years ago.

    In 1866, Bourne embarked upon ten months of photographic travels into the interior of the remotest seldom traveled regions of the Himalayas. On this journey he was accompanied by 66 coolies who carried supplies that included delicate glass plates, multiple cameras and his elaborately exotic photographic chemicals.

    At the time when Bourne made his photographs, an accomplished photographer might possibly make only two pictures during a day of work, in an exacting progression of steps. First, the photographer set up his dark tent. Next, inside the tent he evenly coated his glass plates, with an emulsion of collodion (cellulose nitrate) to which was added silver iodide. Outside the dark tent, the still wet plate was inserted into a camera, then it was exposed in a matter of minutes, before the plate dried. Finally, the photographer returned to his dark tent and developed his plate in a solution of silver nitrate.

    For the novice, these operations were actually dangerous, as one could easily create explosives by accident, not to mention the possibility of killing himself with deadly cyanide gas, given off by the photographic process.
  • Frank Mason Good, Frith’s Series, India / Clark Worswick, Three Kashmiri Nautch Women (Court Entertainers of the Maharaja of Kashmir). Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    As one studies the catalogs of Indian commercial photographic firms of the 19th century, only a few pages are devoted to pictures of the inhabitants of the subcontinent. These have been outnumbered by images of topographic and architectural grandeurs of India. Frank Mason Good is one of the few photographers who actually shot Indian subjects, and in Kashmir, he created photographs of presumably the Maharaja of Kashmir’s nautch women. The picture is ornate. It is sumptuous, yet deeply unfathomable and redolent with the mysteries of a Maharaja’s palace life that was populated by musicians and nautch singers.
  • Raja Deen Dayal, Secunderabad Studio, Hyderabad / Clark Worswick, The Char Minar and the City Bazaar, Hyderabad. Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    At the time this picture was taken, the area around the Char Minar in Hyderabad held 14,000 shops that catered to a multiethnic and multireligious population that formed the Kingdom of the Nizam of Hyderabad. As the court photographer to the Nizam, it was Raja Deen Dayal’s work to document the royal court as well as every facet of the Nizam’s kingdom. This picture, at first glance, appears straightforward. Yet, to populate this picture with a center line disappearing into the maw of the Char Minar is a feat that few 19th-century photographers accomplished with such fluency. To my mind, this photograph is like a Mughal miniature painting; it is populated by scores of individual narratives with travellers moving through their days passing inwards and outwards in the picture.
  • Felice Beato / Clark Worswick, Chattar Manzil Palace, with King of Oudh's Boat in the Shape of a Fish, Sunk in Gumpti River. Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    The King of Oudh’s fish boat is part of a series done in 1858 by the photographer Felice Beato during the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny (1857). Beato created an inclusive narrative of the scenes and architecture of Lucknow, a city that was a byproduct of one of the great cultures of North India. Never before nor after did a photographer of 19th century India create such a lavish but now disappeared Indian kingdom. The print is derived from a nearly perfect print of Beato’s extraordinary work in Lucknow. Sadly, Beato appears to have poorly “fixed” most of his Indian work (1858) and his later work in China (1860). Both sets of work appear to have been burnt down in the Great Yokohama fire of 1866 when Beato was residing in Japan over a nearly 20-year period.
  • Charles Shepherd, Bourne & Shepherd & Co., Calcutta / Clark Worswick, Golis (Gold Weavers), Agra. Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    Titled “Golis” (gold weavers), the weaving of elaborate, expensive gold textiles was an art and a complex tradition of India. This mysterious and enigmatic picture is part of a rare series of 20 to 30 photographs of “Native Types” sold in the period 1864–90 by the firm of Bourne & Shepherd, Calcutta and Simla. Charles Shepherd, a founding partner of the firm, shot this image between 1859–63, and though the pictures were listed for sale over a 30-year period, few have withstood the ravages of time. The original print is one of the earliest existing examples of this print.
  • Photographer Unknown / Clark Worswick, Thousands of Hindu Pilgrims at the Magh Mela. Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    This photograph is one of the greatest Indian pictures of the 19th century. To this day, the great melas of India continue to attract the single largest crowds that gather on earth. In 2004, I showed this picture to the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson a month before he died. As he held the picture in his lap, Henri stared at it for five minutes without speaking. “What is this picture? What is its meaning?” he asked. He then stated, “I believe it is an inscrutable narrative of 8,000 people each with their own stories, looking at the camera 125 years ago.” It was the best I could do fathoming the mystery of this picture.
  • Raja Deen Dayal, Secunderabad Studio, Hyderabad / Clark Worswick, Panipat Maneuvers – The Retreat, January 16, 1886. Price upon request.
    VIEW EXHIBITION

    In 1886, the British Colonial administration of India staged maneuvers of two Army corps with 35,000 men that were located 150 miles apart. They met at the ancient battlefield of Panipat to the north of Delhi. It was at Panipat that the fate of India was previously decided three times in 1526, 1556 and in 1761. It was on this great battlefield that successive armies of Mughals, Afghans and finally the Marathas fought to the last man standing. During the last of these great battles, a hundred thousand soldiers, and countless numbers of huge armour-plated war elephants died during a single day. What is so extraordinary about this picture by Raja Deen Dayal is that for the last time the millennial armies of India marched into history and the dust.
/
Close

We use our own and third party cookies to enable you to navigate around our Site, use its features and engage on social media, and to allow us to perform analytics, remember your preferences, provide services that you have requested and produce content and advertisements tailored to your interests, both on our Site as well as others. For more information, or to learn how to change your cookie or marketing preferences, please see our updated Privacy Policy & Cookie Policy.

By continuing to use our Site, you consent to our use of cookies and to the practices described in our updated Privacy Policy.

Close