19th Century Photography In India At Scottish National Portrait Gallery

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 27 July 2007
sepia photo of a procession in India

Religious procession at Madura, unknown photographer. 1880s Albumen print. © Scottish National Photography Collection, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

To mark the 60th anniversary of Indian independence, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh is displaying a collection of outstanding photography from 19th century India.

Photography in India in the Nineteenth Century runs until September 30 2007, and is part of a series of commemorative events in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee this year.

The works have been selected from the Gallery’s extensive archive of images from the subcontinent, and explore the early experiences of the British in India. Their sense of wonder is captured in the portraits, which enabled them to share the sights of this land with people back in Britain.

The invention of photography provided a medium that allowed artists to convey the sense of long history and diverse civilisations of India in a very direct way, for the first time.

An unusual group of portraits of Indians who came to Scotland in the 1840s opens the exhibition. They were taken by photographic pioneers D.O. Hill and Robert Adamson.

black and white photo of a grand Indian building with two men sitting near it

Gateway to Akbar's Tomb, India. Dr John Murray. © Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Other works, by leading professionals and amateurs working in India from the 1850s, demonstrate remarkable artistic quality despite the challenges of the tropical environment. Images produced by Dr John Murray, Eugene Clutterbuck Impey, Samuel Bourne and others are also of major documentary importance.

“Given the difficulties of working the early photographic processes in a tropical environment, both amateur and commercial photographers in 19th century India produced an astonishingly sophisticated and compelling body of work,” commented the exhibition’s curator, John Falconer, Head of Visual Materials and Curator of Photographs at The British Library.

“The selection of images in the current exhibition illustrates the technical and aesthetic confidence with which these pioneers tackled the diverse range of subject matter offered in the subcontinent.”

Mounted prints join original photographic albums in the exhibition, which cover an assortment of subjects and a wide geographical area. Field photography, survey photography and portraits are all included.

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