Moonis Ahmad

Prophecy raises several questions and generates great interest amongst its believers. But when it is combined with photography, it evokes even greater curiosity.

The packed affair at the lecture on ‘photography and prophecy’ by Professor Christopher Pinney, an anthropologist and an art historian from London School of Economics, was an indication to go by. The media resource centre of AJK MCRC organized the talk on September 3.

The occasion also saw debates on various traditions in photography. From colonial to post-colonial trends, the shift in practices of photography from an instrument of measurement to current visual popular culture backed by technology.

“Whatever that is recorded by facts must have also been captured. This gives primacy to photography as a discipline,” Prof Christopher Pinney argued. “The period prior to 1830s saw the dominance of painting as an art form to depict the surroundings, rather an era where only gods and kings had faces. With the coming of portraiture in photography this barrier was transcended.”

Reading excerpts from his book ‘Photography’s other histories’ attention was drawn to Alkazi collection of pictures and how there was a coincidence between photography and telegraphy. The colonial photographic archives were based on representing heroism and other ‘British Raj’ achievements, he said.

With the coming of portraiture in photography, it became performative in nature bordering on moral instruction. The significance of colonial photography was mainly in the creation of metropolitan self identity, the professor writes in his book, Camera Indica.

The power point presentation of the photos of colonial period depicted the culture and historical consciousness of the era. The picture of Humayun tomb in Delhi after the revolt of 1857 drew debates and responses from the participants. Ms Sabina Gadihoke, faculty of Video and TV, MCRC, shared her understanding about the colonial photography and zenana (women) photographers.

The whole lecture tried to break the popular myth that photographic history is best seen as the explosion of western technology.

Sunil Gupta, an independent photographer, drew a parallel between colonial photography and the present practice of embedded photojournalists. “The trend followed by American administration in the Middle East and Afghanistan needs to be looked at closely and is similar to colonial traditions of photography.”

The questions raised at the end of the lecture were limited because of time crunch. Some students found the academic nature of the lecture difficult to follow. However, the participants agreed that it did open a new perspective towards photography as a discipline.