Collection of the week: Ralph Ponsonby Watts

In 1987, a rusty-ended Kodak roll film was discovered in the attic of an Earl's Court house in London, and given to Nigel Sorrell, a forensic photographer, who despite misgivings there would be anything worth seeing after 40 or 50 years, processed the film. On that roll, and on a further 33 rolls found in a biscuit tin, he discovered perfectly preserved pictures of India and Iran from the 1940s. The photographs were taken by Lt-Col Ralph Ponsonby Watts (1892-1991), an officer in the British Army and British Indian Army in World War One, from where he joined the Indian Political Service in 1925. During this time until his retirement in 1944 Lt-Col Watts was posted to a number of locations in the Persian Gulf, India and western China, and brought away with him a remarkable set of photographs of the people, landscapes and cultures he found there. In particular, in 1932 he was sent on a 50 day trek through the Himalayan Mountains to Kashgar on the old Silk Road, now in Xinjiang province in western China, which he recorded on sheet film/glass negatives.

The pictures on our website represent years of work by Nigel Sorrell, repairing and removing scratches, and researching with the help of Lt-Col Watts' recollections. They include photographs of intermittent home life in Devon from around 1910 to the late 1930s as well as the more exotic landscapes of the east.

For a glimpse of this evocative, bygone age, click here.

Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
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