Visions .of empire
Catherine Fellows visits an exhibition of 19th century photographs that reveals the British Empire’s relationship with the architecture of India.
lndia must be one of the most photographed. and certainly most photogenic. countries in the world. The collection of images that are currently on show at the Portrait Gallery could be described as the original tourist shots. Taken in the late 1850s and early 1860s. they catalogue many of the ﬁnest architectural monuments of Rajasthan and central northern India — and a few of the region’s exquisite people — as if for the scrapbook of the Great British Nation. The photographer even provided commentaries to encourage appropriate appreciation that are straight out of Baedeker.
Said photographer. Eugene Clutterbuck lmpey. no less, served with the colonial forces in India for over twenty years. and it is thought that he learnt photography for military purposes; but many of these pictures demonstrate a sensitivity to form and its use in composition way beyond the call of duty. The ﬁrst image in the exhibition. which is used to illustrate the curators‘ introductory piece. is a telling self portrait of Captain lmpey at his desk surrounded by statuesque lackeys: but it is the second photograph that really begins to reveal lmpey’s artistry. lts subject is the Kootab. the oldest mosque in India. and lmpey has choosen to look along a corridor formed by a succession of carved sandstone pillars. The effect of the sunshine which streams in from the left. casting soft parallel shadows that fade into the brightness in the distance. is to enhance the remarkable sense of depth and give the structure an ethereal beauty. lmpey knew what he was up to because the negative shows that he heightened the contrast in a few key places. making the light more dramatic.
lmpey‘s technical achievement is impressive in view of the practical difﬁculties he must have faced. but it is the early state of the art that make the photographs the powerful records they are. For example. rather than blowing up small negatives. lmpey would have made contact prints from full size plates. This gives the wonderful clarity
of detail that is particularly pleasing in his representations of the intricate ﬁligree carving that characterises Hindu architecture. and the clothing and jewellery of his Rajpoot sitters.
But the practicalities or limitations of photography at the time he was using it have bred other effects that lmpey may not have anticipated. The length of exposure that these pictures had to have gives them an incredible stillness. a stillness that seems particularly poignant in the context of the recent massacre at Ayodhya. but also more generally, from our historical perspective, seems to speak volumes about the relationship between photographer and subject. As the exhibition‘s curators put it. photography was ‘theoretically at least‘, a means by which the British could gain insight into an Empire whose variety and complexity eluded their comprehension. In an image such as the ﬁrst of two of the Deeg Garden Palace. the magical building, with its glassy stretch of water in the foreground. looks deserted. forlom: an impression which is only emphasised by the odd flimsy piece of wooden scaffolding clinging to it. it is as ifthe country has been grabbed at. and all that remains in the hands of the grabber is a beautiful shell. Even the people look like dazed relics — highly wrought anthropological specimens. There are many good reasons why lmpey took mausoleum after mausoleum. but it is hard not to see it as a failure to get anywhere near the living reality of lndia and the lndians.
This is no criticism of the photographs: it is all the more reason to see them — and the silks and embroideries on the walls round about them. These vibrant fabrics increase the frozen. shadowy effect of the monochrome prints, but this contrast is perhaps more superﬁcial than the similarity between the two sets of artefacts. The hangings have been borrowed for the exhibition from importers who go under the provocative name of Out of the Nomad '5‘ Tent: today’s tourists. returning from India with their mirrored bags and armfuls of treasure. are not so much further down the road than were their acquisitive ancestors.
Eugene lmpey: Photographs of India. Scottish National Portrait Gallery. 1 Queen Street. Edinburgh. 20 Mar-23 May.
Exhibitions are listed by city, then alphabetically by venue. Shows will be listed, provided that details reach our offices at least ten days before publication. Art and Exhibition Listings compiled by Miranda France.
I ART EXPOSURE GALLERY 38 Bath Street. 353 236i. Mon—Sat l0.30am—6pm. Judith I. Bridgland Until Wed 3| Mar. New works by a gallery regular. Art Exposure has also organised an exhibition of paintings by Welsh artist Bryan Evans at the Glasgow Film Theatre. l2 Rose Street. throughout March.
I ART GALLERY 8: MUSEUM, NELVINGROVE 357 3929. Mon—Sat l0am—5pm: Sun 1 lam—5pm. Cafe. ID]. Voluntary guides are available free of charge to conduct parties or individuals round the main galleries. Ask at the enquiry desk.
Exploitation Earth Until l8 Apr. A timely examination of some of the ways in which natural resources are exploited and for what purposes; the exhibition explores various environment-friendly alternatives. William Strang Until 25 Apr. Large collection of landscapes. biblical and literary illustrations and scenes of l9th and early 20th century life by the Dumbarton artist who revived interest in etching at the turn of the century.
Alan Davie: ll Mago Until Sun 4 Apr. Two works by the internationally renowned artist. to complement the Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective at the McLellan Galleries. Davie painted these works after his collaboration with the artist in I987. Printing with Wood Until 25 Apr. Woodcuts from the last ﬁve centuries and drawn from several European countries — centring particularly on the pioneering work of 20th century illustrators. including examples by Willie Rodger and Stephen Campbell.
Innocence and Experience Until 25 Apr. An exploration of the treatment of children in British art. from I600 to the present. including works by Moore. Hogarth. Eardley and the ubiquitous Paula Rego.
The Threads of Life Until 13 Jun. An exploration of textile traditions and techniques from Africa. Asia. Central America and Europe. The show includes a wide variety of woven. printed and embroidered textiles.
I BARCLAY LENNIE FINE ART 203 Bath Street. 226 54l3. Mon—Fri 10am-5pm: Sun l0am—lpm.
The Jessie M. King Archive provides information on all aspects of the popular Scottish artist.
ilorman Edgar nCl: iiecent Paintings Until Sat 3 Apr.
I BURNSIOE GALLERY 190 Dukes Road. Rutherglen. 6l3 3663. Tue—Sat 9.30am—5pm.
Spring Exhibition Until 10 Apr. Featuring ceramics by Christine and Geoff Cox and paintings by award-winning painter Rhonda Smith.
I RURRELL COLLECTION Pollokshaws Road. 649 7l5 l. Mon—Sat 10am—5pm; Sun Ham-5pm. Cafe. ID].
The collection of Edwardian tycoon William Burrell. including furniture. paintings. ceramics and glass. housed in an elegant purpose-built gallery. Recorded descriptions and thermoforms available for the beneﬁt of visually impaired visitors.
I CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS 346—354 Sauehiehall Street. 332 752i. Tue—Sat Ham-5.30pm. ID].
‘l’racey McKenna Sat 27 Mar—24 Apr. See preview.
I CMNS GALLERY University of Strathclyde. 22 Richmond Street. 552 4400 ext 2682. Mon-Fri l0am—5pm; Sat noon—4pm. [D].
RP re—Vislon Until 24 Apr (closed 9—l2 Apr). A challenging show of mixed media works by eight artists who suggest new ways of looking at contemporary art.
I COMPASS GALLERY l78 West Regent Street. 22l 6370. Mon—Sat l0am—5.30pm. Contemporary Scottish Artists Until 22 Apr. A selection of work from the gallery‘s collection including Joe Davie. Jim Tweedie and Douglas Thomson.
I CONVERSE GALLERY Kings Court. King Street. 0850 343 205. l0am-9pm.
A Selective Silence Until Mon 29 Mar. Photographs of the Yugoslavian War by Joan Philips which show atrocities committed against Serbs. These works have been banned by the Government under United Nation sanctions against Serbia.
I CYRIL GERBER FINE ART l48 West Regent Street. 22l 3095. Mon-Sat 9.30am—5.30pm.
Works from Stock Including Gastav Klimt. Derain. Eric Gill. Penrose and well-known Scottish artists.
I GLASGOW PRINT STUOIO 22 King Street. 552 0704. Mon—Sat l0am—5.30pm. Murray nobeMon Until 17 Apr. New paintings. pastels and prints which explore the conflict between man and nature.
I GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART l67 Renfrew Street. 332 9797. Mon—Fri 10am—5pm; Sat l0am—noon. [D].
American Pluralism Until Sat 27 Mar. Work from artists at Ohio State University.
I RUNTERIAN ART GALLERY University of Glasgow. 82 Hillhead Street. 339 8855 ext 543 l. Mon—Fri 9.30am—5pm; Sat 9.30am—5pm.
I American Screenprints from the Collection of Reba and Dave Williams Until l7 Apr (closed 9—l2 Apr). The only Scottish showing on an international tour of this unrivalled private collection. which stretches from the 1920s to the heyday of Pop Art in the l960s. and includes works by Warhol, Pollock. Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein.
I NUNTERIAN MUSEUM Glasgow University. University Avenue. 339 8855. Mon—Sat 9.30am-5pm.
The bequest of William Hunter. a student of Glasgow University in the 1730s. who left his substantial collection of books. prints. and various other curiosities to the university.
I LILLIE ART GALLERY l Grange Avenue. Milngavie. 943 3247. Mon—Fri l0am—5pm; Sat and Sun 2—5pm. Bearsden Art Club Annual Exhibition Until Sat 27 Mar.
I MCLELLAN GALLERIES 270 Sauehiehall Street. 33l l854. Mon—Sat 10am—5pm; Sun Ham-5pm. [D].
Niki de Saint Phalle: iier Life and Art Until Sun 4 Apr. Last chance to see this major retrospective of the exuberant French artist. She is best known for her outsizc sculptures of women and her eccentric collaborations with late husband Jean Tinguely. Admission £2/50p concession.
I MUSEUM OF TRANSPORT Kelvin Hall. Dumbarton Road. 357 3929.
The Birth of the Steamboat Until 16 May. The history of the steamboat both in technical and in human terms.
I NS GALLERY 12 Otago Street. 339 3158. Mon-Sat noon—6pm; Sun noon—5pm.
Cordon Davidson: Landscapes Until Wed 31 Mar. Works which capture the ﬂeeting and striking changes of light and colour in the landscape of west Scotland.
George tomslty-lcons Sat 3-Wed 28 Apr. 30 works by this internationally acclaimed Bulgarian artist who trained in icon painting in Soﬁa. I PEOPLE’S PALACE MUSEUM Glasgow Green. 554 0223. Mon-Sat 10am—5pm; Sun l lam—5pm. [D]. Cafe. Once a museum for the working class.
52 The List 26 March-8 April 1993