Revisiting the Colonial Archive.
Portugal, a premier seafaring nation and the first to charter the colonial foray into India, was a pocketful of territory on the map of Europe. It had been able to drive away the north African Moors only around the 12th century by attaching Algarve and other coastal territories. Numerically the population of Portugal was so small that it could hardly support large military garrisons even in the small colonies of Macao, Goa, Timor and Mozambique. Local militias and the African troops filled in for the scant white soldiers, safeguarding the borders in colonies like Goa.
What was the equation between the colonizer and the local population? A clutch of photographs from the album of Souza & Paul, who operated out of their Panjim (Panaji) studio from 1884, capture these binary fissions. These photographs appropriated the imperial gaze, focusing more on locations than people, and undoubtedly were created for the consumption of viewers in Portugal and its colonies. The studio still exists in situ, run by a distant descendant as a "photo express", coughing up multiples of identity photographs for passport and other official purposes.
The present selection of photographs dating to circa 1890, from an album in the collection of the Central Library, Panaji, includes images of structures in the vicinity of the capital and Old Goa. Photographs of the impressive ramparts of the sprawling Reis Magos Fort with the military barracks flanked by the Reis Magos Church nuance the close bond that church and state forged, proselytizing and converting significant sections and thereby effecting a transfer of culture that percolated through all levels of society.
In the 19th century, the city was a central image for the camera, as described by Graham Clarke in his book The Photograph. But the colonial city as a microcosm of all that has ensued in a colonial state takes on a different flavour in the albums of Souza 8c Paul. Encapsulating the colonial view of Estado da India in the late 19th century, the camera converts to image textual details of the life of the colony. The 18th-century series of plague epidemics ravaged the capital (Old Goa) that was left abandoned by official diktat with its "tiles taken down and roofs razed to allow the pestilence to vaporize from the port city". The ruins of the Augustine Monastery wall facade with its lone standing tower in some ways recapture this and more about the politics of religion.
The eye of the camera records in detail the topographical features of the colony--city and locale--briefing the viewer on the engaging and pristine beauty of its natural resources, the Dudhsagar waterfalls, hilly terrains around the arms of the wide, meandering Mandovi river with walled forts sleeved by the church. Administrative and ecclesiastical institutions around Panjim, then a newly settled city known as Nova Goa, capture the modern structural metaphors offset by a tamed and gentrified population in urbane settings. Diametrically opposed visual tropes of "colonizer" and "native" set against a backdrop of urban and rural locales help hitch the argument of modernity and primitivism.
An occasional white official amid the tableaux of bare-backed brown-skinned men and sari-clad women at menial tasks heightens the contrast between a tamed land, the untamed local and the vast expanse of scenic territory and the city, polarizing the binary between the advance of Portugal/Europe and the primitive colonized land/Asia. The land and the cityscape are panoramic with individuals rendered in microscopic proportions as if the eye of the camera is filtering a view of an urban scene while the hub of the city is observed from a distance.
The "white" flaneur celebrates the colonial city; the "native" heightens and contrasts city and locale commending the ensuing process of gentrification which the camera of the colonial photographer negotiates. The central icons are: the celebrated Panjim jetty with docked boats and gentrified people wearing urbane European clothing, carrying no hint of compulsory dress codes; wide avenues suggestive of a well laid-out inhabited city; and the belfries of the cathedrals and church towers illustrating a visual hierarchy of indexical signs for the rationale of colonialism.
All photographs by Souza & Paul, Nova Goa, c. 1890, courtesy of the Goa State Central Library, Patto, Panaji.
Photographs by Souza ea Paul
Text by Savia Viegas
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|Title Annotation:||PHOTO ESSAY|
|Publication:||Marg, A Magazine of the Arts|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2012|
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