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Dalrymple: My writing is dark but photographs are darker

Thursday, Mar 31, 2016,12:58 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | Noted writer and historian William Dalrymple, who recently rediscovered his long lost passion for photography was surprised at how the photos he took while on his travels turned out to be dark – even darker than his narratives of crumbling empires and perishing dynasties.

Over 50 black and white photographs by the Scottish author documented from his extensive travel across unfathomable regions of Afghanistan, Iran, Tibet, Ladakh and other parts of Central Asia have found place in a new book titled, The Writer’s Eye (Harper Collins). I am surprised how dark and drastic some of the images are.

My writing is not strictly dark. It seems to draw on a different side of me. It is a rather dark, more extreme vision of the world, but the photographs are darker. I am not a dark character. I am a lively person in my private life and I spend most of my life laughing.

There are some sad stories (in writing) but there is a lot of humour too in books like ‘The City of Djinns.’ But I am surprised at the shots. They are all dark, Dalrymple said. He believes that his photography showcases a palette that is different from the one visible in his writing, despite drawing inspiration from the same travels and the common themes of Mughal architecture, ruins of Afghanistan and domes of Golconda among others.

The photographs show a taste for the dark and remote, the moody and the atmospheric, perhaps even the Gothic, that I don’t think is there in my books or articles and which slightly surprises even me, he writes in the book. For Dalrymple, who turned 51 about a week ago, it was completely thrilling to foray into a new avenue and find something else that I could do at the age of 50. With 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron as his great great aunt, the art of photography was certainly something that Dalrymple inherited genetically.

Beginning at the tiny age of 7 with a Kodak camera, he graduated to a Contax 35mm SLR with Carl Zeiss lens within few years. Ever since I started writing, my photography languished and died, he says. But, what took a back seat decades ago, with his writing flourishing over the years, has recently resumed precedence in the last 18 months, as the author has been photographing profusely alongside researching for his upcoming book, The Anarchy, that documents the 60 years of East India Company’s imperial rule over India.

I have always been a photographer but it is something that I have rediscovered in the last 18 months. Part of it is because I haven’t been writing. I have been researching for my book and travelling widely to places that have lent themselves quite well for photography too, he says.

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