Lucknow to Lahore: Fred Bremner's Vision of India at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

By Culture24 Reporter | 15 October 2012
a black and white photo of a rope bridge across a river with a parrallel rope pulley with a man halfway across
Fred Bremner, River crossing, River Jhelum, Kashmir (circa 1896)© Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Exhibition Preview: Lucknow to Lahore: Fred Bremner’s Vision of India, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until April 7 2013

A set of 24 beautiful and rarely seen photographs by Fred Bremner opens a photography season at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery with a glimpse into the exotic world of the British Raj.

Bremner left for India in 1882 at the invitation of his brother-in-law, the established photographer GW Lawrie. He spent the next 40 years recording what he saw in some of the remotest regions of the Subcontinent.

The move at the age of 19 evidently brought out the adventurer in Bremner, who eagerly swapped the gentile life of a commercial photographer in his father’s studio in Aberdeenshire for the dusty streets of Lucknow.

His assignments took him across Northern India, and in 1889 he set up his own studio in Karachi, followed by premises in Quetta in Baluchistan, and in Lahore and Rawalpindi in the Punjab. 

Travelling incessantly over vast distances and working in rarely photographed areas, Bremner created a captivating record of Imperial India’s rural life, landscapes and people.

a black and white photo of a woman dressed in a crown, long white trane and other trappings of wealth and power standing next to a throne
Nawab Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan, Begum of Bhopal (1858-1930), c.1922© Scottish National Portrait Gallery
But as well as giving visitors a glimpse into these exotic worlds, the exhibition also looks at how imperial expansion during the 19th century provided photographers with a powerful stimulus.

Men like Bremner followed in the footsteps of colonial armies, traders and adventurers photographing British territories and furthering imperial interest.

Many of his photographs are compositionally complex and reveal how British India was imagined by its rulers and the public back home.

His main business, however, was portraiture, and the exhibition includes several of his fascinating photographs of colonial officers and members of the native aristocracy.

His passion remained India's diversity and customs and he spent hours photographing fishermen, craftsmen and artisans, developing the images on a series of large, glass plate negatives.

This selection has been beautifully printed by renowned photographer Pradip Malde from the glass negative originals to give a rich, personal perspective on the people and places that Bremner encountered.

  • Open 10am-5pm (7pm Thursday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @NatGalleriesSco.

a black and white photo of an Indian fruit market stall
Fruit Market, Quetta Bazaar (1900)© Scottish National Portrait Gallery
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