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Relics on print

THE ASIAN AGE. | SOMUDRA BANERJEE
Published : Jul 23, 2017, 8:12 am IST
Updated : Jul 23, 2017, 8:15 am IST

The photographs mostly consist of architectural views, landscapes and portraits of their patrons and clients.

 Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Old Court House Street, 1867
  Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Old Court House Street, 1867

19th century photographs of architectural views, landscapes and portraits by photographers Samuel Bourne and Charles Shepherd offer glimpses of vintage India.

Delhi, His Eminence, The Viceroy’s Elephant, Delhi DurbarDelhi, His Eminence, The Viceroy’s Elephant, Delhi Durbar

But o, photography! as no art is,/Faithful and disappointing! The British poet Philip Larkin wrote those “lines” on “yielding to a young lady’s photograph album”, ruminating on the vain attempt at restoring the past for the future.

Varanasi (formerly Benares), Vishnu temples on the GangesVaranasi (formerly Benares), Vishnu temples on the GangesPaigah TombPaigah Tomb

But to commemorate their 10th anniversary, Tasveer, a pan-India gallery headquartered in Bengaluru, is showcasing 19th century vintage photographs of India by colonial photographers Samuel Bourne, Charles Shepherd and their Bourne & Shepherd studio, that would make viewers imagine India of the past — India at the break of dawn of ‘dreaming big’. The photographs mostly consist of architectural views, landscapes and portraits of their patrons and clients.

Agra, the interiors of the Moti Masjid Agra, the interiors of the Moti Masjid

In a foreword to the ongoing exhibition, Shilpa Vijayakrishnan writes, “One of the most famous of the early European commercial photographers-cum-adventurers, and the most prolific photographer of the picturesque, Samuel Bourne arrived in India in 1863. A former clerk in a Nottingham bank, Bourne abandoned his position in favour of a photographic career in India that seemed to combine beautiful landscapes with an expanding commercial potential. Undertaking several expeditions in the seven years he spent here, including some extremely perilous journeys, Bourne photographed the expanse of Imperial India: from the Himalayas down to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). Particularly influential over the visual regime of nineteenth century, especially translating as tourist souvenirs and postcards, his photographs produced a visual culture that packaged and represented a specific idea of India.”

 (Photo:Wikimedia Commons)(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

With William Howard, he established the photographic studio Howard & Bourne in 1863. Later they expanded to include Charles Shepherd. In 1866, the Bourne & Shepherd establishment set up a branch in Calcutta, which shut shop in 2016.

Delhi, The Great Arch and the Iron Pillar at the Qutub MinarDelhi, The Great Arch and the Iron Pillar at the Qutub Minar

Darjeeling, the loop on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway  (Image courtesy: MAP/Tasveer)Darjeeling, the loop on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (Image courtesy: MAP/Tasveer)

Hugh Ashley Rayner in his essay on the life and photographic work of Samuel Bourne notes, “Even though he produced one of the finest bodies of photographic work in the history of photography in India, his name is still largely unknown, both in India and in the rest of the world, except amongst a very small number of collectors and students of photographic history.”

Tags: samuel bourne, photographic, paigah tomb, moti masjid