London’s Science Museum isn’t the most obvious place to visit for an Indian photography exhibition, but that’s where, until 31 March, you’ll find one.
Spanning the period 1857-2017, Illuminating India is split into three sections, beginning with 1857’s Mutiny/First War of Independence/Uprising, running through the era of independence and then zooming on a whistle-stop tour up to the present day.
The contrasts of moving from early, seemingly amateurish images of the Mutiny and its aftermath to pictures by celebrated photojournalists Margaret Bourke-White and Henri Cartier-Bresson is jarring at times.
Much of the early work focuses on Lucknow, with Calcutta represented in just two pictures – both, and how Calcuttan, of demonstrations (see below), one peaceful, the other descending into violence.
But after the turmoil there’s also Vasantha Yogananthan’s delightful A Myth of Two Souls and its retelling of The Ramayana.
Illuminating India actually presents two exhibitions side by side, having started with 5,000 Years of Science and Innovation, which celebrates the country’s pivotal role in the history of science and technology.
From the first recorded use of zero to the inventor of USB ports to steps wells, there’s a lot of ingenuity. (And, seamingly for good measure, an auto rickshaw.)
I knew, of course, that bioscopes were related to the early history of cinema but had never seen one of the machines.
About the size of a suitcase, it has a hand-cranked projector and a number of ‘viewing ports’ the size of small mugs through people could watch film clips. The arrival of the first bioscope in Calcutta in 1896 marked the beginning of filmi history.