Krupa Desai is a PhD scholar at the School of Art, Birkbeck. Her doctoral thesis is on the social history of photographic practices in India. Her work looks at photography around industrialisation, development, and transnational diplomatic exchange, during the Nehruvian period. Her PhD is supported by the Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation and the Birkbeck School of Arts Post Graduate Research Scholarship.
The visuality of the master is not motivated merely by the desire to stand out from the audience, but in a self-contradictory manner, it is premised on the audience acknowledging and providing photographic space to him.
India’s Independence from the colonial rule saw the nation’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru emerge as a powerful visual presence. At the peak of his popularity, in June 1955, he made a highly publicised 16-day visit to the USSR. This visit, made in the backdrop of the Cold War and the impending Big Four Conference, was covered in detail by the Indian and foreign press, as well as both government’s official photographers and camerapersons. Paper addresses an official album made after this iconic visit to investigate the role of photography within India-Soviet diplomatic networks. Casting Nehru as the Master persona, it delves into the function of photography in recasting his image as an international traveller, a crusader for peace, a negotiator, and a friend of the Soviet. Considering India’s and Soviet’s differing political stance and international position in that period, the article questions what does the presence of these official photographs reveal about emerging trans-national networks and if there were there any deviations in this careful reconstruction of the Master and his ally.