Upon hearing the name William Dalrymple, most people might imagine the majestic grandeur of Mughal rulers and the British Raj, scenes from the past that we as readers often encounter in his insightful writing. Having penned acclaimed books such as In Xanadu (1989), City Of Djinns (1993), The Last Mughal (2006), Return of a King (2012) and more, Dalrymple is now set to release his first book of photographs, titled The Writer’s Eye, later this month.
To the surprise of many of his readers, Dalrymple holds firm that long before he became the celebrated travel writer and historian that he is today, he has always first and foremost been a photographer. The Writer’s Eye is a collection of sixty striking black-and-white photographs which he shot over eighteen months using a Samsung smartphone, which he describes to Hindustan Times as “an excellent little camera tucked away permanently in his back pocket.” He adds, “This collection is a record of a restless year between books, when I took the opportunity to visit some of the world’s remotest places, especially in Central Asia”.
His travels provided inspiration for his photography as much as they did for his writings, but it all began when Dalrymple received a Kodak camera for his seventh birthday, marking the moment his interest in photography was first piqued. “I used to spend a lot of time leafing through photographic books. I particularly admired the bleak and grainy war photography of Don McCullin (British photojournalist) and the landscape work of Fay Godwin (British photographer),” he said. “But my real hero was Bill Brandt (British photographer and photojournalist), whose brooding images were marked by a stark chiaroscuro, a strong geometrical sense of composition, a whiff of the surreal, and a taste for the uncanny and unsettling.” Spending hours in his darkroom developing photographs, he claims that many who knew him in his teenage years would still consider him a photographer before calling him a writer.
The photographs will also be part of an exhibition curated by bestselling writer and Sensorium Festival co-founder Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and will open on March 18 at Sunaparanta: Goa Centre for the Arts in Panjim, and will carry on to Delhi on March 29 at Vadehra Art Gallery and London’s Grosvenor Gallery later in June.