Irony of Frozen Narratives

An army tank crossing the Outer Circle of Cannaught Place during the riots of 1947

An army tank crossing the Outer Circle of Cannaught Place during the riots of 1947

Ansel Adams, the celebrated photographer of landscapes in monochrome, once famously remarked,  ‘‘ You don’t take a photograph, you make it’.  Yuvraj Khanna, a lawyer from Delhi, does just that. In his spare time, Khanna walks around the city wearing a cape of curiosity, with the weapon of his choice, a Nikon camera.

Construction of India Gate in 1931

Construction of India Gate in 1931

‘I think I’m always on the lookout for stray pieces of history that surround me. While we see a lot of ‘before and after’ photos, there was no body of work that captured the transformation of the city within a single frame’, says Khanna, who has undertaken a project to chronicle the city’s transformation in a single frame by juxtaposing old black and white pictures of places in Delhi with the backdrop of their current views, an augmented reality arrangement, if you will.

Rajasthan Camel Corp. passing through the India Gate during the Republic Day Parade in 1958. Note the absence of Amar Jawan Jyoti.

Rajasthan Camel Corp. passing through the India Gate during the Republic Day Parade in 1958. Note the absence of Amar Jawan Jyoti.

Since at the heart of the project lies a serendipitous quest, a journey both inward and outward, there has been no use of Photoshop whatsoever.  Yuvraj took matte printouts of over thirty old photographs and traveled around the city to every landmark and physically held the pictures up against their contemporary cityscapes.  ‘Every landmark demanded at least two visits as I had to figure out which angles to cut the pictures in to match their architectural layout. This proved to be tougher than I had anticipated’, recalls Yuvraj.

Among his treasure are pictures that show the construction of India gate in the year of 1931, a picture of PVR Plaza as it stood in 1950, the shift in mode of transport from cycles to cars visible from an old picture of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and a remarkable picture from the 19th century where a man stood leaning against the iron pillar of the then barren Qutub Minar complex.

View of Qutub Minar as it stood in the 19th century

View of Qutub Minar as it stood in the 19th century

Yuvraj who often daydreams about being on a National Geographic assignment says that for art and inspiration he had to look no further than his own house. ‘The creative genes in my family definitely come from my grandmother, Mrs. Gyan Kaur, a decorated painter. Apart from the walls of our homes, her paintings have been a regular feature at various army cantonments and art museums alike.  The composition of my photos, especially landscapes, is strongly influenced by her aesthetics. She has an affinity for floral prints which I’ve incidentally come to love and associate solely with her.’

You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, books you have read, music you have heard and people you have loved.  While Khanna has his camera strap wrapped around his right hand, he has legal briefs tucked under his left arm and drumsticks sticking out of his back pocket.

‘ I find no truth in the statement that a person can or should do one thing in their life. Especially in our part of the world, I dislike how people have a notion that any indulgence in creative endeavors means a lack of professional expertise. The law is an integral part of me and I find myself immersed deeper in it every day. It’s cold logic and power to save lives, culture and the environment appeals greatly to me. Percussion and photography on the other hand are medium of self-expression for me. Music has been an intrinsic part of my being ever since I was a toddler tapping my hands and feet to melodies. Photography is my attempt at story telling’, explains Khanna.

Khanna’s unique collages testify to time’s relentless melt. ‘The overall experience has been a bittersweet one. I think in Delhi we’re far too used to seeing old structures as mere facades of the glory they once exuded. Such complacency is not the best thing for preserving a city’s heritage. The recent restoration of Humayun’s Tomb makes it an exception. I found that the landmarks that are relevant in modern-day Delhi are reasonably well maintained. However some portions of old Delhi bear no resemblance to the photos from its hay days.’ says Khanna.

However in this project of contrasts and comparisons, the one common denominator, according to Yuvraj, has been the creative use of spaces by couples at all sites of historic relevance.

More of his work can be found here on Instagram.

PVR Plaza in 1950

PVR Plaza in 1950

A transformation from cycles to cars as at the Rashtrapati Bhawan Avenue

A transformation from cycles to cars as at the Rashtrapati Bhawan Avenue

St. James Church at Kashmere Gate riddled with bullets from the revolt of 1857

St. James Church at Kashmere Gate riddled with bullets from the revolt of 1857

 

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