India through royal lenses

Updated: Nov 20 2005, 06:27am hrs
That art transcends boundaries of nationality is something that perhaps bears repetition in a world increasingly seeking to erect walls. But just then, someone comes along to shatter the myth so convincingly that even the unconverted have to face up to the truth.

Looking at Derry Moores introspective photographs, no one would believe he is not a born and thoroughbred Indian. His photographs seem to know exactly how to capture the temper, the quintessence of whatever he has trained his lenses on - whether his subject is a descendant of the last nawab of Awadh or a chowkidar.

A royal from the British house of Windsor, an Earl, he began photographing in 1971. He studied under British photographer Bill Brandt and has since shot for many high profile assignments. Among the magazines has worked for are Vogue, Architectural Digest and Town and Country.

He is best known for his photographs of people and interiors of houses and buildings. His works have been compiled into books including Inside the House of Lords, The Queen Mother, The Stately Homes of Britain, Gardens of Queen Elizabeth and The Englishmans Room. His works on India have been compiled in a book called Evening Ragas, Photographer in India.

His subjects also display catholicity - his works include portraits of the British royal family, David Bowie, Ronald Reagan, Helena Bonham Carter to legendary Indian figures like MS Subbulakshmi, Satyajit Ray, Soumitro Chatterjee, JRD Tata, Sharmila Tagore and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi to contemporary ones like Feroze Gujral, Jyotiraditya Scindia and many others.

He has shot all his Indian photographs in black and white. Asked to explain his preference for black and white, he says they have an abstract quality, a depth that colour pictures lack.

His colour photographs have been usually for assignments in colour magazines or books. Moore is on a visit to India with 56 of his photographs. He first came in 1976 for six weeks, visiting Mumbai (then Bombay), Hyderabad, Madurai and other places. India had a mesmerising effect on him, it was like seeing people from before the Industrial Revolution.

Constantly on the search for photographing places before they disappear by changing their character, he found the Indian atmosphere of a bygone era irresistible and came repeatedly back to capture more and more people and places before they fell to the globalising effect. He expresses his love for Mumbai and Calcutta, as also Hyderabad, and perhaps out of politeness also says he liked Delhi this time around! Indians have terrific grace, he says, they are more varied, have great tradition, and even if it is cliche, tremendous spiritual quality, he adds.

He regrets that many places in the world have become Americanised and is glad that India has retained its uniqueness, though he fears that the cities are fast going the American way.

His photographs were exhibited in the capitals Hotel Imperial and The Olive Bar & Restaurant for an audience that usually had their eyes wide open as if to visually absorb the angles and lighting used by Moore.

Over 80 now, Moore is already hard of hearing in his left ear. That has in no way dimmed his desire to capture as much as he can through his seemingly magical lenses. For he will be undertaking photographic commissions in India in November and December. So if you want a really classy portrait of yourself, dont miss this opportunity of a lifetime.