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TO MAY 6
This exhibit is called “India Through the Lens,” but Britain’s finger was definitely on the shutter: Most of these 135 images were made by some kind of imperialist, whether political or cultural. There are portraits of proud British overseers with assorted dead tigers at their feet, grand panoramic views of British-built Calcutta, and depictions of the empire’s greatest gift to India: its railway system. Most astonishing are Felice Berto’s photographs of the aftermath of the great 1857 uprising (the British preferred the word “mutiny”) at Lucknow. For one picture, Berto had the disinterred skeletons of Indian victims scattered at a site where 2,000 people were slaughtered by British troops. Not all the photographers represented here were European, however, and not all were interested in glorifying the empire. There are also prints of Indian landmarks that respectfully document the elaborate architectural detail; awe-inspiring views of the Himalayas that parallel early photos of the Rockies; dignified portraits of Indian potentates (an unknown photographer contributed HH the Maharaja of Pannah, pictured); and strictly ethnographic studies of the members of various ethnic minorities, some of whom clearly had no more connection to mainstream Indian society than they did to the curious Brits who photographed them. These photographs reveal as much about Victorian attitudes as they do about India, but they’re so full of detail about the latter that it almost doesn’t matter that they lack the one attribute that’s seemingly essential to rendering India: color. On view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily at the Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mark Jenkins)