Pictures capturing the history of Delhi through the lens of the common man.

No matter where you come from, once you start living in Delhi, you’re a Dilliwala. This beautiful city with its rich heritage and colourful character always captivates the viewer. Though most of us are well aware of the pivotal role the city played in Indian history and how it lured many rulers, somewhere the people’s narrative of the place during that time is lost in transition. An exhibition titled ‘Camera Dilli Ka — A Delhi Photo Archive 1880-1980’ presents history from the lens of common man.

The exhibition organised by the Centre for Community Knowledge (CCK) of Ambedkar University (AU) offers several commoners’ narrative spanning over 100 years with a collection of over 100 years. Selected from the CCK’s Narain Prasad Collection these images are shot by amateurs and travellers. “These ‘never seen before’ pictures are unlike the historical ones. Instead of being monument-centric, these pictures are people and city-centric bringing into sharp focus the everyday life of ordinary people and how the city was in the past. Even the pictures of monuments have been shot by the inhabitants and travellers who visited them for sightseeing and enjoyment,” shares Parul Malik, research assistant at CCK and co-curator.


The photographs on display include a roadside barber attending to a customer (1968), people participating in air raid precaution drill (1941), aerial view from Qutub Minar (1940s), view of Old Secretariat from the Ridge (1920s), photograph taken from an aeroplane of Jama Masjid and its environs (1933) and Mexican journalist Gossi Soto posing at Tughlaqabad Fort (1952) among several other pictures. Rajani Prasad shares, “This collection is unique because it gives us a people centric view of the metropolis in its growing years and draws attention to how city spaces — public and semi private, were used and remembered by those who lived there. The themes that these photographs explore make them evocative, textural and emotional, and take viewers back to similar moments in their own lives.”


The idea was to showcase the lives of common people, their interests, their customs, dresses, recreations and occupations etc during that time, shares Parul and adds, “Through this exhibition we attempt to fill the memory gaps in the history and bring to fore narratives of those whose voice has never been heard before. It also showcases some of the lost traditions. For example, a picture from 1945 shows swimmers at Yamuna River. During our research we found that during those days there were many swimming competitions held at the Yamuma, which is a far off dream with the level of pollutants in the river at present.”


The 109 pictures on display include images from Narain Prasad's collection, Fozan Ali Ahmed, Raj Chauhan, Jan Friese and travellers like Gossi Soto and Christophe Fanjat and internet (Time-Life and Delhi Archives). Interestingly, the entire show has been divided into sections each pertaining to a particular theme. “The idea of a theme-based section was to facilitate people to see pictures pertaining to their area of interest,” explains Parul. She continues, “Each section has four and more pictures giving a wider perspective on the theme it depicts. Like there is a picture of Ring Road view taking from Hyatt Hotel by Christophe Fanjat in 1984 drawing a comparison to today's Ring Road with a view from EIL Building by Ridhi Tirkey in 2016. The Delhi Then and Now highlights the important changes brought about at some important landmarks of the Capital like Ring Road and Patel Nagar located at Pusa Road.”


A talk titled ‘Building the Camera Dilli-ka Archiive’ will be held parallel to the show. Parul shares, “The story of how this collection has been built at CCK, AUD will be the subject of a talk at the venue. It will describe the process of acquisition, from reaching the photographer to receiving it. The talk will cover the various innovative outreach programmes developed at the centre.

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