William Dalrymple takes to smartphone photography to make the ‘vision count’

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Updated: June 26, 2016 7:05:29 AM

Noted writer-historian William Dalrymple rediscovers his other passion with a new book, not on history, but photographs, that too clicked with a smartphone

WHEN NOTED writer-historian William Dalrymple is not busy penning down his thoughts or working on his next bestseller, he’s probably clicking pictures with his Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone. Not too many people know that the 51-year-old author of books such as City of Djinns (1994), White Mughals (2002), Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (2009) and Return of a King:

The Battle for Afghanistan (2012) has more to his writings than meets the eye, as he comes out with A Writer’s Eye, a new book of photographs taken by him with a smartphone camera.

In an interview with FE, Dalrymple tells us about his journey of rediscovery, passion for photography and source of inspiration for his latest work, among others…

On photography being in his blood

Photography for me long preceded writing. In fact, it is in my blood. My Calcutta-born, part-Bengali great-great-aunt was Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the greatest photographers of the 19th century. As a child in Scotland, I used to leaf through her portraits in the albums we had at home and envy the world she had created and her ability to make such luminous, telling and painterly portraits with a camera.

On starting young

I have taken photographs since I was first given a tiny Kodak for my seventh birthday. When I was 15 years old, I was left with some

money by a relative and spent it on a fabulous Contax 35mm SLR with a pin-sharp Carl Zeiss T lens. For the next five years, I spent much of my time in the school dark room, emerging after several hours, stinking of fixer, with water-logged hands and developer splashed all over my clothes, but clutching a precious sheaf of 10×8 prints.

On writing taking over from photography

In time, however, writing took over from photography as my artistic outlet, and my precious Contax came to languish unused in its bag in a cupboard. It is only in the past 18 months, since I jettisoned my last BlackBerry for a Samsung Galaxy Note, that I have rediscovered my passion for photography.

On his book of photographs

The 60-odd images used in the book have been culled from the past 18 months of travels from Leh to Lindisfarne (England), from the Hindu Kush to the Lammermuirs (Scotland) and across the rolling hills south of

Sienna (Poland). Certainly, they have been inspired by the same travels and there are common themes—Mughal architecture, the ruins of Afghanistan, the domes of Golconda—but the photographs show, I think, a taste for the dark and remote, the moody and the atmospheric, perhaps even the Gothic, that I don’t think is there in my books or articles and which slightly surprises even me.

On his inspiration for the book

The primary inspiration has been my travels, and this collection is a record of a restless year, between books, when I took the opportunity to visit some of the world’s remotest places, especially in central Asia.

On the use of a smartphone camera

Through all these travels, I carried my humble Samsung mobile phone. I get a particular pleasure out of the immediacy and the lack of pretension inherent in using a mobile phone to record the world around me. For photography should always be about the eye, not the equipment. It is the vision that counts, not the camera.

On the use of black and white images

I always preferred black and white, partly because it allowed me to develop and edit my own prints, but mainly because black and white seemed a much more daring and exciting world, full of artistic possibilities.

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