Kolkata, through the mists of time

Rare photographs from two of the country’s studios of old are on show at Victoria Memorial Hall

They are black-and-white images of Kolkata from another day: Horse-drawn carriages at New Market, bullock carts at Howrah Station, a Pontoon Bridge that preceded the iconic Howrah Bridge, views of the Raj Bhawan and the Maidan from the Indian Museum and animal sacrifice at the Kalighat temple.

The collection of 96 photographs show landmarks, including famous hotels, and sprawling commons as they stood in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of them are still around. They are all there, however, for the time-traveller to see, curated as a rare expo at the Victoria Memorial Hall. “These are digital reproductions of 96 gelatin silver photo prints from the collection of VMH,” said Jayanta Sengupta, secretary and curator, Victoria Memorial. Some 27 prints were made by Bourne and Shepherd, known then as India’s largest commercial studio, and were acquired by Victoria Memorial in 1978. The remaining 69, made by the second oldest studio, Johnston and Hoffman, were donated by the Maharaja of Burdwan.

Daguerreotype images

Mr. Sengupta said that the studios got professionals to make the images. The originals were preserved, and the expo has put on display two Daguerreotype plates. “That’s the way it used to be,” photographer Raghu Rai mused, at the exhibition.

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