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A. L. Syed (1904-1991)

Abidmian Lalmian Syed (1904-1991), more popularly known as A.L. Syed, is the Doyen of Indian photography. He is regarded as one of the key figures whose works have captured the glory and aura of the Princely States of pre-Independence India.


Born on February 2, 1904, in Vernawada, a village 16 kms from Palanpur, he spent his early childhood in the town where his father was hakim of the Royal family. It was a school tour of Mumbai in 1923 that played an important role in shaping his life. On that trip, a photograph he clicked of sunset at Chowpatty won him the First Prize in Illustrated Weekly of India’s snap shot competition. For the next five decades, his photographs were regularly featured on the pages of the Weekly.

Morning Time In Dyara - 1938
- A. L. Syed

In 1925, his images first began appearing in Kumar, a Gujarati magazine, edited by well- known artist Ravi Shankar Raval, and he was a regular contributor, with photos and feature articles till the publication ceased in 1940.


At that time he was already working with his elder brother, K.L. Syed, a well known freelance and also official court photographer in Palanpur. But unlike his brother, A.L. went beyond portraits, and his famous photograph ‘Traveller of the East’ taken in 1934, won international recognition and was published as one of the world’s best photographs in Odhan Press Home Library series. Since then it has been a part of over 40 international exhibitions and winner of the annual Popular Photography award in 1935, and later became part of the famous Hutchinson Collection in the USA.

Street Sweeper - 1938
- A. L. Syed

One of his many one-man shows was inaugurated by the then President of India, V.V. Giri, on the occasion of the 6th Convention of the Federation of Indian Photography hosted by the Camera Society, Delhi.


Another of his photographs, ‘Difficult Ascent’ was chosen for an award from among the 2,500 received from 15 Asia Pacific countries in the Asia Pacific Cultural Center for the UNESCO (ACCU) Photo Contest in Tokyo in 1977, and in 1980 he was given the honour of inaugurating a photographic exhibition organized by Illustrated Weekly of India to commemorate its centenary. Later in 1983, he was one of the 10 eminent photographers of the world to receive the India International Photographic Council’s highest honour, the Honorary Fellowship for outstanding contribution and service to various branches of photography.


Mr. Syed was more than a photographer; he was a master artist, highly respected in India and abroad, both professionally and personally. His skill in bringing alive remarkable images of day to day life around the country and crafting exquisite portraits have made his work live long after he passed away on August 30, 1991.

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