British Academy Book Prize commissions new photography to reinterpret 2023 winner’s work

19 Jun 2024

Diamond industry workers take a lunch break in the shade in the historic British cemetery in Surat. Credit: Arko Datto

The British Academy has partnered with Panos Pictures, an agency specialising in global social issues, on a photography commission to bring to life the themes of Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire by Nandini Das, winner of the British Academy Book Prize in 2023.

Arko Datto, an award-winning photographer based in India, has been commissioned for the project. His brief is to creatively reinterpret Courting India – a ground-breaking history of the first English diplomatic mission to India in the early 17th century – through photography.

The resulting series of photographs will be exhibited at the British Academy as part of London’s Open House weekend, on Sunday 15 September, and be included in the wider media campaign for the Book Prize. The commission has been made possible with support from Hawthornden Foundation.

Professor Charles Tripp, Chair of the British Academy Book Prize said: "The British Academy Book Prize’s mission is to enhance global cultural understanding. We want to celebrate books and authors of course, but we also want to bring their ideas to a wider audience – and photography will help us do just that. We couldn’t be more excited about this innovative collaboration between Arko Datto and Nandini Das.”

Arko Datto said: "I am delighted to be commissioned by the British Academy, Panos Pictures and Hawthornden Foundation to create a photographic response to Nandini's incredible book. India's motley mix of complexities, contradictions and contrasts provides a rich canvas for this. Exploring hitherto unseen parts of the country, seeing its people and places anew, helped me approach the contemporary and the historical in exciting new ways. I hope the audience discovers traces of the incredible moments I experienced during this project.”

Nandini Das said: "I am grateful to Hawthornden Foundation and the British Academy for suggesting this wonderfully generative and imaginative project. It has been exhilarating for me to see aspects of the book refracted through Arko’s lens as he moved through some of the same spaces that I had approached primarily through 400-year-old records. At the same time, it has reminded me repeatedly – with precision, empathy, and humour – how closely the past and the present is interwoven into the very fabric of everyday life in present-day India.”

Adrian Evans, Director of Panos Pictures said: "This is an exceptional opportunity for a photographer to create a contemporary project inspired by ground-breaking historical research. The idea of combining a book prize with a photographic commission is unique and the British Academy should be applauded for this exciting new initiative.”

The shortlist for the 2024 British Academy Book Prize is announced on Tuesday 10 September and the winner on Tuesday 22 October.

For further information about the Prize please see the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding.

Photo: Diamond industry workers take a lunch break in the shade in the historic British cemetery in Surat. Photograph by Arko Datto.

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

Sign up to our email newsletters