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Through the English lens: Vintage travel photographs of India that was

Vintage travel photographs by two Englishmen who brought an exotic 19th-century India to the curious British public are now part of a new exhibition in Delhi.

art and culture Updated: May 28, 2016 14:03 IST
Paramita Ghosh
Samuel Bourne

Vintage travel photographs by two Englishmen who brought an exotic 19th-century India to the curious British public are now part of a new exhibition in Delhi. In this picture: Delhi, His Eminence, The Viceroy’s Elephant, Delhi Durbar; Bourne & Shepherd, 1877. (Courtesy MAP/Tasveer)

India turned Samuel Bourne, a British bank clerk, into a photographer. One of the most prolific of the early European commercial photographers, Bourne, along with his partner, Charles Shepherd, set up a studio in 1866 in Calcutta to tap into the growing culture of studio photography.

Agra, The Taj Mahal from the corner of the quadrangle; Samuel Bourne, c. 1860. (Courtesy MAP/Tasveer)

The Bourne & Shepherd studio, one of the oldest studios in the world, still continues to this day in a city that has known much change, including a change of name.

Varanasi (formerly Benares), Vishnu temples on the Ganges; Samuel Bourne, 1866. (Courtesy MAP/Tasveer)

Bourne arrived in India in 1863. Over the next few years, he photographed the subcontinent widely, producing more than 2,000 negatives before he left for home.

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Darjeeling, The loop on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway; Bourne & Shepherd, c. 1880. (Courtesy MAP/ Tasveer)

Bourne was basically the go-to guy for pretty and exotic pictures. His photographs brought to the curious British public, lavish scenes of the Indian landscape — mainly hills, houses and valleys — that enjoyed a huge market. Postcards, book illustrations and albums from the Bourne & Shepherd studio were prized souvenirs from the Orient and decorated many a memsahib’s parlour.

Delhi, The Great Arch and the Iron Pillar at the Qutub Minar; Samuel Bourne, c. 1860. (Courtesy MAP/Tasveer)

The nature of this form of distribution, coupled with the available technology of the time, meant that these images were primarily developed in a relatively small size. One of the highlights of this exhibition, is the reproduction of select prints in enlarged sizes that allows viewers a unique insight into these historically significant photographs from our distant past.

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Agra, The interiors of the Moti Masjid; Samuel Bourne, c. 1860. (Courtesy MAP/Tasveer)

The Bourne & Shepherd studio was patronised by the Europeans, Indian royalty and a mushrooming Indian upper middle class and was the place that got the maximum commissions for special events such as the Delhi Durbar, some images of which form part of this exhibition.

Afghanistan, Group of Affreedies from the Khyber Pass; Charles Shepherd, c. 1860. (Courtesy MAP/Tasveer)

Shepherd, too, was also a good photographer. He, however, was overshadowed by Bourne. Shepherd, therefore, concentrated his energies on the business side of operations and in handling portraiture at the studio, while Bourne travelled the length and breadth of the subcontinent.

Lucknow, Ruins of the Residency; Shepherd & Robertson. (Courtesy MAP/Tasveer)

The exhibition, Bourne & Shepherd: Figures In Time, is a collaboration between Tasveer and Exhibit 320 galleries on the occasion of Tasveer’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

Bourne & Shepherd: Figures In Time

Where: Exhibit 320, F 320 Lado Sarai

When: 10.30am to 6.30pm; May 28 - June 10

Call: 46130637

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