Kolkata formerly Calcutta is a city shrouded in time warp basking in its earlier glory as the former capital of the country. Established in 1690, the city has ben immortalized time and again over the past three centuries, through art and litrature. Artists and photographers and writers have often embarked on a journey to reveal the mysteries of Calcutta. Many an adjective has been used to capture the essence of the city. Some romanticize the idea of Calcutta calling it,’Jewel of the East’, ‘ City of Joy’, ‘Cultural Capital of India’, while others present a murkier side of the city calling it the ‘Black Hole’, Graveyard of the British Empire’. Rarely has the city been presented as a city of contradictions, a unique paradox of extremes, of gradoise and luxury, poverty and wealth coexisting harmoniously.
The calculating eye of photographer Clyde Waddell captured the eccentricities of the city in the early twentieth century. Waddell, was Chief Photographer for the Huston Press before entering the army, was flown to the India-Burma Theater, the south east Asian front of the allied forces during World War II, in November 1943 and attached to the Public Relations Staff of Southeast Asia Command with the express purpose of acting as personal press photographer for Supreme Commander Admiral Lord Luis Mountbatten.
From the day he landed at headquarters in Ceylon, until February 1945. Waddell accompanied the “Supremo”throughout Southeast Asia, visiting battle-fronts, hospital stations, and other strategic areas. When Phoenix Magazine, a 24 page picture weekly sponsored by the combined U.S. – British command, was formed in February 1945, Waddell took leave of the Theater Commander and resume his old chores as a news photographer.
After returning from the Singapore operation, Waddell was granted a dearly earned leave. For the first time in almost two years of overseas duty, he did not have an assignment. And, like the sailor who spends his liberty rowing around Central Park Lake, Clyde began to take pictures.
He took these pictures primarily at the behest of many friends who had been constantly asking him for photos of Calcutta scenes. By the time he completed this project, which brought him into some of the remotest out of bound areas (and even on top of Calcutta’s Howrah Bridge), he was flooded with requests from Americans and Britishers for copies of his photographs. The photographs reveal the bewilderment of Clyde Wadell in experiencing the clash of the east and the west, which he experienced in the city. The descriptions often exoticize Indian traditions, presenting them as idiocyncracies of the East. The works are an interesting study of how the East is presented from the eyes of a Westerner.
Aakriti Art Gallery, Kolkata is hosting ‘A Yank’s Memory of Calcutta’, photographs of Calcutta by Clyde Wadell from 8 December’2014 -24 January’2015.
The entire collection, being showcased comprises of 60 gelatin silver print photographs from the famous album, A Yank’s memory of Calcutta by Clyde Waddell. The album was dedicated to the GI’s, with an introductory note by N. Chas. Preston. The works are a revelation of Calcutta around 1946, in all her glory. The exhibition can be viewed online on http://www.aakritiartgallery.com/exhibition/details/15.