Tasveer, as the first member-gallery from South Asia, participates in the 37th edition of The Photography Show in New York, organised by Aipad (Association of International Photography Art Dealers). Held at Pier 94 from March 30– April 2, 2017.
The history of a syncretistic visual culture that brings together painting and photography may be traced to the very beginnings of photography in the nineteenth century. Perhaps motivated on the one hand by the lack of colour in early photography, and encouraged by a drive to pictorialism in photography on the other, glass plate negatives were regularly touched up to create improved photographic prints using lens coatings and a variety of dark room technologies. A second more imaginative and fertile form of art was to emerge with the addition of a layer of colour directly onto the printed photographic image. In the Indian context particularly, this partial or complete painting over the photographic print took root in early years of the medium’s development.
Painted photography in India has long been described within discourse as photographic prints covered by a layer of paint excepting for the face or other visible extremities. While this is certainly true in some examples, more recent scholarship has underscored the fact that this is not always the case, and that the merging of the two mediums produced, in truth, a wide range of different applications – from thinly layered barely discernable paint to an opaque layer of oil paint over the entire surface of the photographic print. Or further still expanding the radius of this confluence, to manorath paintings – a highly conventionalised form of representation from the Nathdwara region in Rajasthan that show the deity Srinathji (Krishna) with groups of goswamis (priests) and devotees in attendance—their faces either reworked from photographic portraits, or actually collaged photographic images.
Photography was deployed in manorath paintings to both enable faster production and harness the medium’s relationship to indexicality (or the ‘here and now’ factor) and the act of witnessing—in this case, constructed with religious and social conditions as a form of darshan. Concomitantly paint was employed to enhance photographs in order to enable them to achieve a desired function that photographic technology would not allow, whether decorative or corrective.
The photographic genre most deeply coloured by the practice of painted photography was undoubtedly that of portraiture. As a creative technique, hand-painting offered unlimited scope in adding emphasis to a portrait. The artist used colour in an interpretative way to often change the background scene by adding or excluding certain decorative elements such as items of furniture, clothing, jewellery, and carpets or by changing the facial expression of the subject in order to show authority, grace, or kindness, as desired by the patron. With the painted element an integral part of the overall composition, these photographs hold a distinctive identity within larger histories of photo manipulation and photo-based visual cultures.