Power of the printed image

4 THE POWER OF THE PRINTED IMAGE In principle a work of art has always been reproducible . . . Mechanical reproduction of a work of art, however, represents something new. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, 1955 THE RISE OF P I C T O R I A L J O U R N A L I S M Art schools and art societies, the new institutions that helped to establish the supremacy of academic art in Bombay and Calcutta, enjoyed Raj patronage. But there were modern innovations, namely printing technology and the processes of m
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  4 THE POWEROF THE PRINTED IMAGE  In principle a work of art has always been reproducible . . . Mechanicalreproduction of a work of art, however, represents something new. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, 1955 THE RISE OF PICTORIAL JOURNALISMArt schools and art societies, the new institutions that helped to establishthe supremacy of academic art in Bombay and Calcutta, enjoyed Rajpatronage. But there were modern innovations, namely printing technol-ogy and the processes of mechanical reproduction, that flourishedindependently of the government. These means of mass communicationmade further assaults on Indian sensibility, turning urban India into a'visual society', dominated by the printed image. They affected equallythe elite and the ordinary people: lithographic prints served a mass marketthat cut across class barriers, while pictorial journalism became anindispensable part of literate culture. The educated enjoyed a rich harvest,of illustrated magazines, picture books for children and cartoons. The .appearance of high-quality plates lent greater credibility to writings on \  art. As printing presses mushroomed, these publications reinforced publictaste for academic art.The mechanical production of images opened up endless possibilitiesfor the enterprising journalist. Graphic artists, for instance, served theirapprenticeship as illustrators and cartoonists on magazines. For a remark-able flair in blending literary and illustrative journalism we must turn tothe brilliant early practitioner, Ramananda Chatterjee. His career co-incided with the Bengal Renaissance and the founding of the IndianNational Congress in 1885. In 1909, the influential editor of the Pall MallGazette, W. T. Stead, paid a tribute to this pioneer:the sanest Indians are for a 'nationhood of India', undivided by caste,religion or racial differences. A notable representative of this . . . isRamananda Chatterjee. He [seeks], through the medium of the Press, to 120  THE POWER OF THE PRINTED IMAGE rouse India to a sense of its fallen condition and inspire the natives of theland to help themselves. He is pre-eminently an editor, although ... he hasbeen associated with many reform movements. At present he is the editor,publisher and owner of the Modern Review, a high-grade illustratedmonthly magazine, published in English, and Prabasi, a Bengalee organ.'From the outset, two interests dominated Ramananda's thinking, art andnationalism; he combined them with a rare success. A thoroughly modernentrepreneur, thrown up by colonial India, Ramananda took pride inprofessionalism, insisting on the punctual appearance of his journals andãthe prompt payment of contributors. His career was an object lesson inanticipating emerging trends and steering his ventures adroitly in those'directions. Yet, he was not merely a journalist; he was also the mostsuccessful one, with an unfailing instinct for backing promising artists.ãRamananda moved painlessly from Ravi Varma to Abanindranath, asnaturalism gave way to swadeshi orientalism. An attachment to liberalvalues was evident in all his activity. Born a Brahmin, he gave up hisSacred thread under the influence of the Brahmo Samaj. His early'endeavours were taken up with children's education and with improving;*the lot of Indian women. During his schooldays he tried to set up anEvening school for working men. While at university, he responded toffche early stirrings of nationalism. But, even though he regularly attendedingress sessions, Ramananda saw his role as a journalist rather than as anctive politician. 2 Like many an ambitious young Bengali of the period, Ramanandaeized the opportunity of a career outside Bengal. Here, as a teacher at the[ayastha College in Allahabad, he conceived his first illustrated maga-e, Pradip (1897). The opening issue explained its aims: 'If you ask usy another Bengali magazine ... the reason [is] that there is none yet of I like in Bengali which combines pleasure with edification'. 3 Pradip setle trend in non-specialist vernacular magazines. It provided entertainingeading for the leisured in science, ethnography, archaeology, literature,arts and other miscellaneous topics. When, following this success,Lamananda was asked to publish an English edition of the Kayasthafamachar  in 1899, he was able to realise his second dream - to fosterational unity through art. 4 Ramananda's most successful ventures were Prabasi and Modemeview, to which W. T. Stead referred. The cover of the first issue of  fabasi (1901) proudly displayed a cultural conspectus of Indian architec-re: Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh and even Burmese (Burma thenIcing under the Raj); the editorial announced the pan-Indian sentiments its editor. The issue sold out immediately and had to be reprinted. Inhowever, the limited readership of  Prabasi disappointed Rama-anda. His decision in 1907 to launch the English language Modern Review brried his nationalist message to English-speaking Indians, besides being a 121  THE AGE OF OPTIMISM sound business move. He was convinced that the foreign rulers must bemade aware of emergent nationalism. Before Modern Review appeared,the ground was prepared with a publicity campaign led by well-knownwriters. 5 Modern Review more than fulfilled Ramananda's expectations: it wasread nationwide. Much of its attraction lay in its superior illustrations.Not that illustrated magazines did not then exist in India; wood-blocksand lithographs were common in books. In Bengal, lithographic illustra-tions were an important feature of the art journal, Shilpa Pushpdnjali, andthe children's magazine, Bdlak, both issued in 1885. But by and large,illustrations were conspicuous by their absence; if they appeared at all,their poor reproductions failed to leave an impression. This was all themore serious in articles on art: witness the critic Balendranath Tagore'sremarkable essays in Bhdrati. Unillustrated, they remained in obscurityuntil recently. For Ramananda, poor pictures were even more serious.His objective after all was to bring art to the reading public as part of thenationalist agenda. But he stood little chance of success without the newhalf-tone blocks. This revolution in reproduction, made possible byphotography, captured the subtle gradations of light and shade essentialfor a faithful rendering of naturalism. The process had just appeared in theWest in the wake of experiments with the camera. Ramananda saw itspotential and immediately replaced the earlier lithographic illustrations,with half-tones. 6 Ramananda was fortunate in having a friend in UpendrakishoreRaychaudhuri, an uomo universale. A member of the small group of liberalBrahmos, he was an intimate friend of the Tagores and of the scientist,Jagadish Bose, one of the first Indian Fellows of the Royal Society. TodayRaychaudhuri is scarcely remembered outside Bengal, although hishalf-tone methods were in extensive use until recently (Fig. 76). At theturn of the century, however, he was widely admired as an innovator inphotographic reproduction. His experiments were published regularly in the Penrose Annual. The journal, Process Work and Electrotyping, noted his importance: 'Mr. Upendrakishor Ray of Calcutta . . . is far ahead of European and American workers in srcinality, which is all the more ãsurprising when we consider how far he is from hub-centres of process;,;work'. 7 In 1902 he brought out the 'Ray Tint Process', used the followii|j||year for colour plates in magazines. By 1913, his own printing press wa*jproducing colour blocks, having broken new ground with other itions that received favourable notices. Upendrakishore's 'Screen Adjust-ing Process' was singled out as a 'unique method . . . [which] has bee$;supplied to some of the leading technical schools in England where it hasbeen reported on very favoxirably' . 8 The Director of Public Instruction iaBengal, seeking ways to illustrate school textboks attractively, spoke of Raychaudhuri: 'I had no idea that such good illustration printing . . ^could be done in Bengal'. 9 122  THE POWER OF THE PRINTED IMAGE Half-tone illustrations quickly became the norm in publishing, not leastin Ramananda's magazines. The earliest monochrome half-tone plateswere Sashi Hesh's Purdnic illustration in Pradip (1901) and Ravi Varma's Sitd  in Prabdsi (1901). Varma's Woman Playing Saravat  in Prabdsi (1902), using the 'Ray Tint Process', captured for the first time the softer tones of an oil painting, which pleased the famous artist. The next year, thepioneer editor went on to colour reproduction, printing Varma's Aja'sLament  in three colours. The year after, Prabdsi, which always gaveprominence to European art, printed full-colour plates of Raphael's St Cecilia and The Knight's Dream. Around 1907, Ramananda brought outthe first biography of Ravi Varma, illustrated with monochrome plates.Soon Dhurandhar, the Bombay artist, became a regular feature in Prabdsi. 10 In 1908, when Ramananda moved his press from Allahabad toCalcutta, it became easier for him to make more regular use of Upendrakishore's printing firm. The editor of  Prabdsi introduced the
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