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Indian history in a yellow crate of negatives

Friday 20 June 2008

Source: International Herald Tribune.

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Nehru family
Nehru with his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, in an undated photo from the Kulwant Roy Collection.
(Aditya Arya Archives, Kulwant Roy Collection )

The yellow crates haunted Aditya Arya. A successful advertising photographer whose clients have ranged from India’s luxury Oberoi Hotel chain to Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet, Arya inherited the crates from a family friend, an old photojournalist named Kulwant Roy, in 1984. And for more than two decades, Arya had hauled the increasingly dusty trunks around a succession of studios, stashing them in out of the way corners and closets. He had a vague sense of what the crates contained — bundles of prints and negatives — and at least once a year his mother would nag him about them. But he was always too busy with his own assignments to spend time pouring over someone else’s fading pictures.

Then, in December, Arya finally opened the crates. What he discovered is a remarkable photographic record of modern Indian history, including thousands of images from the last days of the Raj through the 1960s, many of which have never been published. The archive has excited historians who believe it may shed new light on key moments in India’s independence movement. It has also attracted attention for the commercial value of its images of historical figures ranging from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to Jacqueline Kennedy.

«It is a real find», said Raghuraj Sing Chauhan, director of public relations and exhibitions at India’s National Museum. «They are historically important for the freedom struggle because many of these are quite rare photos.»

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