Material, history, arguments: unidentified publicity images and art-installations
In 2004, I located hundreds of glass-plate negatives (approximately 4 inches x 2.5 inches) in Calcutta, India. The small, fragile and shimmering glass pieces, appearing like miniature abstract paintings, evoked curiosity and excitement. The study of the negatives began in 2004, and was followed up in 2008. The initial process was to retrieve what looked like indistinct yet shiny blotches, produce by silver halide emulsions imprinted on glass. The procedure involved careful scanning of the plates; and afterwards, turning the digital images into positives. A comprehensive catalogue was prepared for the new-found material.
The material came forth as a bulk of publicity images, comprising primarily lobby cards or a series of cards designed for theatrical exhibition. Customarily, the print size of lobby cards is about 10 inches x 18 inches, and includes shots of the concerned film. Moreover, there were blueprints of posters, photographs of stars etc., of films from (predominantly) 1940s to 1960s. Furthermore, along with this came a huge pile of advertisements of consumer products, as well as of public shows, election propaganda, censor certificates, and so on, intended for theatrical projection. Notably, these images were not big posters for display on the streets; but, pictures for theatre lobbies. Briefly, there was a spatial significance of the material.
Consequently, my exposure to the material set off certain critical queries, connected to issues of film industry, technology, aesthetics and reception. The material necessitated an inter-disciplinary dialogue, and required an exploration into histories of glass-plate cameras as well as applications of glass-negatives unto 1960s; furthermore, the art of the cards demanded a close reading of visual practices. Additionally, accounts of exhibition networks, sites of the theatres, and the meaning cinema as a cultural form became crucial.
Madhuja Mukherjee teaches in the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, Calcutta. Mukherjee is the author of New Theatres Ltd., the Emblem of Art, the Picture of Success (2009), and has edited Aural Films, Oral Cultures (2012) and Voices and Verses of the Talking Stars (forthcoming 2014). Her feature-film Carnival (2012) was screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012, and at other international festivals. Her graphic-novel Kangal Malsat was published in 2013.