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“Photos of the Gods”: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India. Front Cover. Christopher Pinney. Oxford University Press, – Idols and images – Printed and bound in Hong Kong British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Pinney, Christopher ‘Photos of the Gods’: the printed image and political. : Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India (): Christopher Pinney: Books.

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The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India traces the development of prints, mostly chromolithographs, from the late s onward.

Specifically, he focuses on the intersection of printed images and political struggles from the colonial period to present-day India. Chromolithographs, complex color images printed from multiple stone blocks, developed from the basic lithographic technique invented by Alois Senefelder in Munich in and first used in India in Far from a Gutenberg galaxy, South Asia is a region where the visual image has played a powerful role and where the written word has had limited impact in an environment marked by oral tradition and multiple languages.

It is for this reason that this book has significance beyond a history of visual practice. In this way, Pinney presents a profoundly convincing and extremely nuanced case for visual culture as a key element in considering politics and religion in modern India.

The book is divided into eight chapters, with an introduction and epilogue. Hence, the mass production of images of Indian gods and goddesses became a political tool for anticolonial struggles. Chapter 1 explores the aesthetic context in which chromolithographs were produced. Colonial art schools established in the mid-nineteenth century advocated an art practice of single-point perspective. Founded inthis printing house was established by ex-students of the Calcutta School of Arts, who appropriated Western academic representational strategies and applied them to the depiction of Indian gods to great success.

Chapter 3 examines the output of Chitrashala Steam Press, also founded inwhose politically explicit images drew from the localized history of the state of Maharashtra, in eastern India, to forward anticolonial agendas.

“Photos of the Gods”

Chapter 4 examines the production of the celebrated south Indian artist Ravi Varma — and the press he set up in Varma has become known as the father of Indian chromolithographs, yet Pinney places him alongside other contemporary practitioners to demythologize his iconic status. Other presses are also examined in relation to camera technology and the use of realism in religious prints to political ends. Chapter 5 examines the activities of the Brijbasi brothers, who began to mass-produce images by artists from the pilgrimage center of Nathdvara in Rajasthan in Chapter 6 studies images in circulation, the use of visual strategies such as allegory, and their intersection with broad political movements such as Cow Protection, the boycott of British goods, certain nationalist leaders, and colonial attempts at control such as the Press Act.


Chapter 7 explores printing production in the second half of the twentieth century in the work of B. Raja reflect a diverse range of public, popular, and folk conventions that combine with local and pan-Indian aesthetics and politics. Finally, chapter 8 examines the use of Indian printed images in the village community of Bhatisuda.

Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India

Single-point perspective and other Western representational strategies of realism are based on a mathematical organization of space and are part of, Pinney argues, a numbing and deadening of the sensorium through the separation of the image from the beholder On the other hand, corpothetics is an aesthetic of representing gods in India that mobilizes th the senses.

It involves bodily performance that transforms both the image and the beholder. As certain images are reproduced through time and region, their meanings shift again. It is this fluidity that allowed printed images in India to escape colonial control, as well as what gave them such power and currency.

Corpothetics is part of a kind or visual experience, of the consumption and impact of printed images in India, where images are not simply a reflection of history but a part of its making.

This recognition leads to another significant aspect of the book—the possibility of alternative histories through the study of printed images. A study of chromolithographs offers an alternative narrative to the official textual narratives of Indian nationalism.

In this way, visual images offer insight into realm of the political not preserved in official archives. Pniney this book, Pinney has performed the herculean task of beginning to sort through one of the largest, most complex visual archives in South Asia. While the author does not intend to provide a straightforward chronological progression of publishers, artists, images, and styles, such a history can be pieced together from the rich data provided.


The book is based on a remarkable foundation of archival research and interviews with artists and publishers started in the early s.

The prints in this study are not a part of official institutional archives; thus Pinney has had to work largely from images kept by publishing houses or ones gathered by himself or colleagues over time. The breadth and depth of the analyses, which bring together literature and methodologies from a range of disciplines, is impressive. Using the tools of the art historian, Pinney provides a strong visual analysis of popular images, identifying specific visual strategies and how they are used, given meaning, and transformed through their dissemination beyond their point of origin.

Further, he uses the tools of anthropology, history, and cultural studies to present a nuanced and layered reading of the history of printed images and political struggle.

In the process he identifies important conceptual frameworks that far exceed this specific study, and provides a foundation for understanding the role of image in Indian politics today. Any weaknesses are minor: It demonstrates the importance of considering visual images as more than mere illustrations of history but rather as sources for new narratives other than those derived from textual sources.

‘Photos of the Gods’ by Christopher Pinney from Reaktion Books

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