A PARSI PICTORIALIST – Complex images and stylized models

In the closing years of the 19th century, the Parsi photographic aficionado, Shapoor Bhedwar, had acquired a significant reputation on both sides of the Atlantic. This was reflected in the exposure given to his work in The Photographic Times of 1894. In its issue of March 23, as a part of its continuing series on “Distinguished photographers of to-day”, the magazine carried a four-page spread on Bhedwar together with a selection of his photographs. His rather interesting career was sketched in detail, the author’s admiration palpable as he traced Shapoor’s life as a cricketer (he had played in England as part of a Parsi Eleven), playwright and maker of musical toy boxes. By the 1880s, photography had acquired more than a dilettante status in his life; in 1889, Bhedwar did a stint at London’s Polytechnic School of Photography, was soon exhibiting publicly and claimed prizes at various exhibitions and shows.On returning to India, he won a gold medal at the Photographic Society of India’s 1892 exhibition held in Calcutta. Unlike Raja Deen Dayal and other Indian photographers who followed the tradition of European studio photography rather assiduously, Bhedwar’s atelier was more experimental, clearly influenced by pictorialism which questioned the view that the photograph was nothing more than a simple record of reality. He excelled in combining religious motifs with the secular, creating rather complex images with stylized models in elaborate garbs. In “The Voice of Silence”, a blind fakir instructs his pupil, a beautiful young maiden who looks up at him in adoration. It transpires that she is his daughter, a link with the secular world. The fakir reappears in the Renunciation series that again used elaborate stage sets as backdrop as well as over-gesticulated poses for the subjects of Bhedwar’s somewhat contrived frames.

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