Monday, May 30, 2016

Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri - 19th-century India through the eyes of Samuel Bourne

British photographer Samuel Bourne came to India in 1863 as a young man of 29 who had already received some plaudits for his landscape images. By the time he left seven years later, he had produced over 25,000 photographs and co-founded a photo studio company that still survives. Bourne’s images are considered some of the finest examples of 19th-century travel photography. Assisted by Indian bearers, the former bank clerk travelled across the subcontinent to create a collection for Kolkata’s Bourne and Shepherd studio.
Ooty (formerly Ootacamund), the lake and the new church from near Audrey House c. 1869/Samuel Bourne. Courtesy: MAP/Tasveer
Ooty (formerly Ootacamund), the lake and the new church from 
near Audrey House c. 1869/Samuel Bourne. Courtesy: MAP/Tasveer
The studio was set up by Bourne and an associate called William Howard and later joined by Charles Shepherd. When Howard left for Britain in 1866, the studio got its present name. An exhibition of its vintage photos, curated by Tasveer Foundation, is going on display at Delhi’s Exhibit 320 art gallery. In Bourne’s India, you can see harsh and splendorous landscapes, royal heritage and the interstices between antiquity and modernity. He wasn’t the first photographer in India, nor the collectors’ favourite – but his dedication to the medium and the breadth of his oeuvre set him apart.

Bourne journeyed from Varanasi and Delhi to Agra and Bombay, among many other places, all the while making a photographic record of the country. As writer-broadcaster Trevor Fishlock wrote in The Telegraph“He endured terrible cold in the mountains, his hands aching from pain caused by frost and chemicals. He travelled heavy: 42 coolies carried his cameras, darkroom tent and chests of chemicals and glass plates. He worked with wet plates, mixing chemicals and applying them to glass, ensuring that the emulsion stayed damp throughout long exposures and development. In the Himalayas he once worked for days in sub-zero temperatures to get just four negatives.” See photos: