Henri Cartier-Bresson, widely considered the father of photojournalism, visited Pondicherry in April 1950. Bresson’s self-commissioned collection of 119 photographs, including portraits of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and life in the Ashram, taken during this trip, have remained largely obscure until now.
This vehicle, also known as La Pondicherienne was the typical Pondicherian rickshaw. It was a four-wheeled covered cart pulled by two men and steered by passengers. This mode of transport was possibly confined to this French colony. Pic/Bourne & Shepherd, C 1890
Hotel de Ville (the Town Hall — the symbol of French colonial power. It was the first administrative building to be constructed after more than 100 years of French rule in the city) and the Dupleix monument, which is the statue of Joseph-Francois Dupleix, Governor General of Pondicherry (r 1742-54). Pic/Bourne & Shepherd, C 1890
Several of his photos have now found their way to the book Mastering The Lens: Before and After Cartier-Bresson in Pondicherry.
Room of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh; from the album Sri Aurobindo and His Ashram, April 1950. “Sri Aurobindo’s room and bed, with the inevitable tiger skin which seems the companion of those aiming at spiritual achievement,” Bresson wrote in his personal diary. Pic/Henri cartier-bresson
The Sri Gokilambal Thirukameshwar Temple is located 10 km away from Pondicherry, in Villianur. The temple dates back to the Chola period (12th century) and is dedicated to Shiva. Pic/ C (possibly Charles) Moyne, C 1860
Visual artists had been visiting the region since the 17th century, writes Rahaab Allana, curator for the book. “The arrival of commercial photographers Bourne and Shepherd, or indeed mysterious French photographer, Charles Moyne uncovers an expansive city of citadels and churches,” she continues to say in the book, which includes photographs taken by several other photographers such as Tara Jauhar, Venkatesh Shirodkar, Vidyavrata and Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya.
The Mother playing tennis; from the album Sri Aurobindo and His Ashram, April 1950. Pic/Henri Cartier-Bresson
The Mother at the daily ritual of throwing flowers at the devotees; from the album Sri Aurobindo and His Ashram, April 1950. pic/Henri cartier-bresson