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Joyce Megan

Joyce Megan

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Photography in Colonial and Postcolonial India as an Agent of Cultural Dominance Author: Megan Joyce Faculty Mentor: Lisa Owen

, Department of Art Education and Art History, College of Visual Arts and Design Department and College Affiliation: Department of Art Education and Art History, College of Visual Arts and Design & Honor College

. and Phi Kappa Phi. Joyce recently presented a paper at the 4th Annual Art History Symposium at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has often been a member of President’s List. She also presented her work at University Scholars Day at UNT in 2009. National Transfer Honor Society.Photography in India 2 Bio: Megan Joyce received the Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of North Texas with a major in art history and a minor in archaeology in spring 2009. Megan is a founding member of the Art History Society. She plans to attend law school with a focus on intellectual property. and is a member of Tao Sigma. Megan is a classically trained pianist and artist.

through their choice of subjects and editing of their works. More recent photography has focused on the reality of the lives of the Indian people.Photography in India 3 Abstract: This research paper explores the use of photography in colonial India. . The thesis of the paper is that British photographers. Thus photography has moved from from functioning as an agent of colonial domination and political propaganda to a tool used to bring aid and compassion to those in need. created a romanticized image of India as the British wished to see it.

while the identity of India’s people was manipulated by the cultural bias of the British. the interest in photography as a means of capturing and revealing ―truth‖ turned quickly from photographing British subjects to capturing the landscape. This paper discusses the use of photography in India as an agent of cultural domination. while at the same time. and people of India. It is a medium which seemingly conveys truth. In order for the subject to be represented in a photograph. Photography first came to India in the nineteenth century with the European interest in the subcontinent. its meaning is constructed and manipulated. . It will explore the British use of photography to forge an Indian identity that established the Raj’s control over the subcontinent and the use of photography by Indians themselves in an attempt to subvert the pictorial precedent established by the British colonists. It is with these issues in mind that one can examine the impact of photography in India. That very quality attributed to photography led to its use as a tool by colonial Britain to exert control over its established colonies. However.1 The scenic panoramas were ideal for creating subliminal landscapes. not long after photography’s invention. and the focus on India rekindled the Western obsession with the mysterious East.3 Among the many early photographs taken in India. The Middle East was losing its broad appeal. It represents the signified – the thing that has been photographed. The invention of photography was a significant moment in the ability to record people and events. as the popularity of the photographic medium escalated. some were of British officials or early colonists. architecture.2 There is no specific date associated with the beginning of photography in India. but there are records of photographers working in India as early as the 1840s. it must have physically been in front of the lens.Photography in India Introduction 4 Photography has been propagated as a tool that conveys reality.

‖ 5 thus allowing the Victorian gaze to objectify the represented landscape of the colonized Indian ―other‖ through this established pictorial tradition. and the observer is safe in another place—outside the frame. . The subject matter and imagery often focuses on the sublime peaks of the Himalayas or views of abandoned. attain such rarefied spectacles and conceive of them as pictorially compelling photographs. and nature’s emerging role as commodity. A stylistic subset of the picturesque is the sublime.7 As a photographer he wanted to. crumbling architecture. raw. . the ideals of the picturesque were ingrained in the Victorian . The concept of the picturesque was influenced by the emerging literate bourgeoisie. landscape painting. literature. This style of photography operates within the pictorial themes of the picturesque.4 The frame of the image it there to. The pictorial conventions of the picturesque and the sublime underscore the ideology and aesthetic tastes of mid-nineteenth century painting which were readily adapted to photography. One of the most noted photographers of the picturesque and sublime was Samuel Bourne. which represent images of vast. which emphasized the awesome.6 Samuel Bourne Bourne was an English photographer whose primary introduction to the Indian landscape was during an 1863 trip to the Himalayas. only picturesque. Its aesthetic presupposes the beauty of nature and places the viewer in the role of voyeur within a protected frame that looks out onto the natural world.Photography in India 5 Many of the first images that were available and widely disseminated were images of the landscape and the architectural monuments of both Mughal and Hindu ruins. ―guarantee that it is only a picture. According to Gary Sampson. and horrible power of nature. and part of it was financially driven.‖ 8 Part of his desire was a deep seated regard for the beauty of nature. ―. sprawling landscapes that highlighted the variations in the subcontinent’s topography.

so much so. that the picturesque came to be used widely in the medium. Panoramic View at Chini. In the foreground is a village perched on the precipice of a jagged mountain range that encompasses the entire background of the photograph. It was through 6 the vein of landscape painting. Bourne would have encountered this location on his travels through India and used the natural setting as a framing element for the image as a way of communicating a pictorial type that would appeal to his intended audience: British nationals and tourists.Photography in India mindset. it was hard to move away from it. This led to the acceptance of photographs of India as being representative of the place and its people. In reality. and aided — intentionally or unintentionally — in the British domination of the subcontinent. as a pictorial type. which he conveyed through his photographs. a small village in Northern India. quality of photography belies factors such as the manipulation of the landscape and the selection of a specific frame through which the image is shaped. the village. The photograph. Bourne’s images were shaped through a British way of seeing. .10 is a perfect example of the sublime in Bourne’s photography.9 Victorian society had an intense fascination with the natural world. that. This fascination stemmed from the desire to escape the trauma of modern life and experience the peace and tranquility of nature. The photograph shows the mountain ranges of Chini. through the pictorial type of landscape painting which was adapted to the medium of photography. or real. The truthful. The juxtaposition between the village and the imposing mountains creates an air of awe and majesty. He has objectified and commodified nature. and photography’s desire to be taken seriously as an art form. This fascination and appreciation was shared by Bourne. It was through this explicit and intentional style of image-making that Bourne contributed to the continuing objectification of India and its people.

However. Photographs of the Taj Mahal were popular. from corner of Quadrangle11 at Agra. his primary audience was comprised of British officers and colonists who wanted commemorative images of the triumph of Britain over the insurgent uprising. He gained his experience during the Crimean War between 1855 and 1856. the focus of photography during this period on Mughal monuments demonstrated Britain’s role as the ―new emperors‖ of the subcontinent. and meaning. Bourne’s images are representing and representing the Indian landscape for British consumption that conveys not India as it is but how the colonial other wants to see it. but these photographs conveyed a false sense of India and shaped a strictly European view of the subcontinent. Thus. The images. Moreover. Take. Beato was a commercial photographer. Photographing architecture at first appears to be an ideal way to convey the aura of a place and its people. but he abstracted India from its people. his photograph The Taj.12 In addition. did little to convey the realities of Indian life. Architecture was perfectly suited for early photography due to the long amount of time needed to attain an accurate exposure. these photographs convey little truth. their representation. Felice Beato Felice Beato was another photographer who is often associated with India.Photography in India and India itself. and Bourne capitalized on their marketability by taking many 7 photographs of the famous structure. Bourne’s photography. also known as the Sepoy Rebellion.13 Beato travelled to India to take photographs of the First War of Independence. Beato arrived in Calcutta in 1858 five months . for example. His images revealed an exoticism that was appealing to European tastes. are entirely constructed by Bourne. Despite the contemporary perception of the medium. while using an appealing aesthetic type. He was an Italian who made his living as a war photographer. and the marketability of his images was a serious concern.

‖ and found an eager audience amongst the British who followed news of the rebellion with great interest. In this photograph. Lucknow. however. Beato also employed the visual aesthetic of the picturesque just as other photographers had. .14 This is exemplified in his photograph Secundra Bagh. but here it is framed by a manicured European-style garden. Its people are absent. India. These photographs presented.17 is another example of a European constructing an image of India. The photograph represents another view of the structure. Such images acted as an authoritative form of communication showing the horrors of the mutiny and the triumph of British imperialism despite the deliberate manufacture behind the image. it is the arrangement of disinterred bones in the foreground which add the most striking element to this photograph. The fact that Beato was not present in India during the rebellion meant that he would have to restage the events which occurred. and instead the viewer is left with a beautiful building and an enchanting garden that appeals to a Westerner’s world-view and has little to do with an appreciation for India and its people. The Taj with Fountains demonstrates the representation of Indian culture through a European lens.15 The interior pavilion of the King’s palace at 8 Secunderbagh was the site of the massacre of two thousand of the Indian soldiers who had taken control of the city from the British.Photography in India after the rebellion and had to stage the photographs he took. His photograph.16 This is indicative of the contrived nature of photographic images of India. ―seemingly objective views. His arrangement of the Indians and horses in the background draw the viewers’ attention to the decimated architecture. Locations associated with the Sepoy Rebellion were not the only pictures he took during his travels. India and its realities are completely obscured by Beato’s composition. The Taj with Fountains. . .

Take. Dayal also worked as the official photographer for the Nizam of the princely state of Hyderabad.Photography in India Raja Deen Dayal Europeans were not the only photographers in nineteenth century India.21 The famine relief photographs functioned as political propaganda for the Nizam. Dayal was commissioned for various photographic projects. The Great Buddhist Stupa. but an adaptation of European pictorialism intended for a British audience that continued to construct a view of India as ―other. 18 Dayal’s photograph. and many 9 nationals also took up the practice. Photographs such as The Great Buddhist Stupa convey not an Indian aesthetic. Due to the fact that Dayal was trained by the British. his famine relief photographs. One of the most notable Indian photographers was Raja Deen Dayal.19 is an example of his early work which reflects his training as a draughtsman through his topographical handling of the landscape. 20 Dayal was a court favorite for his ability to create appealing images that could be read on multiple levels. Dayal was initially trained as a draughtsman and took an interest in photography through the employment of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Dayal was commissioned by the ASI to create before and after shots of the reconstruction efforts on various buildings. he operated between British and Indian visual tropes. which were commissioned by the Nizam during the famine of 1899. from portraits of the Nizam and the royal family to capturing visiting European diplomats. Instead of utilizing the standard pictorial type for famine imagery – isolated images of victims. often near death – they represented the efforts . a British institution that commissioned several large scale renovations of historical monuments in India.‖ The juxtaposition between before images of the decaying stupa and the after photographs of the monument’s reconstruction accentuate the public ideology of an India that was in need of British intervention and preservation. but was still ethnically Indian. for example.

23 These images were primarily intended for the colonial presence in India and conveyed the ability of India’s rulers to care for its own people. Western and Eastern alike. This is a statement in direct opposition to imagery motivated by British pictorial politics that displayed India as a struggling nation in need of salvation.22 Dayal’s photographs of the relief efforts were ordered and compositionally arranged in such a way as to convey the power and control of the Indian government. Many of his subjects are women who have been cast out of their homes and have surrendered to lives of poverty and hardship. are continuing to struggle with the best way to represent India through the photographic medium. the continual cycle of rebirth.24 Today. Fazal Sheikh. as seen in the photograph Famine Orphans in Aurungabad. The term Moksha refers to a state of ultimate release by Hindus. attempts to subvert established visual tropes and represent India through a more truthful vantage point. His photographic exhibit. One particular photographer. Moksha is a series of photographs that depicts the inhabitants of Vrindavan. contemporary photographers. It is the release from samsara.Photography in India 10 of the Nizam’s government to help solve the problem of starvation that was a direct result of the famine. he attempts to give a face to the impoverished women who live in Vrindavan. and instead presented the subcontinent as a nation capable of political autonomy. Sheikh thus gives a sense of .25 While Sheikh is a New York-born photographer and comes from a Westernized perspective. This is largely due in part to the prejudices that were established through images like those of artists such as Bourne and Beato. Many of the pictures in his exhibition catalog have accompanying text in which the women depicted in the photographs describe their experiences. Conclusion Forging a new photographic and visual identity has been a difficult undertaking for India and its photographers.

26 Seva Dasi directly engages the viewer. She. Krishna. Photography has been put to many uses in India. her only desire is to serve the Hindu god. as practiced in India. Through it. is a portrait in which the woman who is depicted recounts the loss of her own husband and rejection of her daughter’s husband who cast her out of his home. The unification of image and text is central to Sheikh’s representation of these women. it is at the same time reality and fantasy. but also to India as a place where suffering and poverty are often experienced on a daily basis. . The image. like the hundreds of other women represented in Sheikh’s work. truth and lies. Indeed. it is through her haunting gaze and the accompanying text that she tells the viewer of her experience. he allows them to recount their individual suffering as he captures them through the lens of the camera – giving the women of Vrindavan agency to tell their stories of suffering and hardship. Seva Dasi. and the intent behind his photography is to further the cause of human rights. is at the mercy of the male-dominated society she lives in. has evolved over the centuries. He illustrates the ways in which photography. and to find peace from this life through death. Sheikh’s work is not totally devoid of his own bias. Photography is an intriguing medium because it presents a multiplicity of meaning.Photography in India 11 agency not only to the women featured in his work. According to her personal narrative. India’s identity has been shaped by the discourse of photography through its use as a means of political control: from functioning as an agent of colonial domination and political propaganda to a tool used to bring aid and compassion to those in need.

Smithsonian Institution in Association with Mapin Publishing. 2000. Picturesque Views: Mughal in 19th Century Photography. 7 in India through the Lens: Photography 1840-1911 edited by Vidya Dehejia. ―Topography and Memory: Felice Beato’s Photographs of India.: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. 5-34. 119-31.‖ Chap. 2008. Denton. The Olivier Degeorges Collection. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 132. Smithsonian Institution in Association with Mapin Publishing. Ahmedenabad. Washington. Chap. San Diego.Washington D. Smithsonian Institution in Association with Mapin Publishing. D.Photography in India Bibliography Beato. New York: Distributed Arts Publishers. ed.‖ Lecture given at the University of North Texas. Lucknow. Sheikh. 1858. _____________. 2002. Raffael Dedo. Mitchell. edited by Gadebusch. Raffael Dedo.: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. 1978. edited by Vidya Dehejia. 163-75. 14-5. Sackler Gallery. Ahmedenabad. 1 in India through the Lens: Photography 1840-1911. Moksha. Ahmedenabad. ―Shooting Power: Photographing the Royal Hunt in 19th Century India. Sackler Gallery. Felice. Sackler Gallery. 4 in India through the Lens: Photography 1840-1911 edited by Vidya Dehejia.C.C. wetplate. Mitchell. 1 in Landscape and Power edited by W. University of California. ―Raja Deen Dayal and Sons: Photographing Hyderabad’s Famine Relief Efforts. TX. Secundra Bagh. ―Imperial Landscape‖ Chap. J. ―Fixing Shadow. Washington D.: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. David. ed.: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Dehejia. Sackler Gallery. Ahmedenabad. 3 (2007): 260-75. 2005. 12 Beato.C. Smithsonian Institution in Association with Mapin Publishing. ―Photographer of the Picturesque: Samuel Bourne‖ Chap. In India through the Lens: Photography 1840-191.T. albumen print. Vidya. . no. Hutton. 2nd ed. Said. The Taj with the Fountains. Göttingen: Steidl. 1859. 2000. College of Visual Arts and Design.J. Gary D. 2000. New York.Felice. introduction to Orientalism. 2000. 2008. In Picturesque Views: Mughal in 19th Century Photography.‖ History of Photography 31. India. T. New York: Distributed Arts Publishers. Sampson. Fazal. 2008. November 11. Gadebusch. Harris. 1858-1859. Washington D. edited by Vidya Dehejia. 1-28.New York: Pantheon Books.C. New York. Edward. Deborah. W.

203. See http://www.‖ 264. Vidya Dehejia. 41. ―Raja Deen Dayal and Sons. ―Photographer of the Picturesque.‖ Also available for viewing in India Through the Lens. ―Shooting Power: Photographing the Royal Hunt in 19th Century India. Gadebusch.‖ 24. 3 (2007): 260-275. Deborah Hutton. Vidya Dehejia. Moksha (Göttingen. 14.. wetplate. 42.C. (Washington. ed. D.org 11. 15. Famine Orphans in Aurungabad. 2. . D. 1866. 14-5. San Diego. Vidya Dehejia. Introduction to Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books. 23. Steidl. J. Picturesque Views: Mughal India in Nineteenth-Century Photography (New York: Distributed Arts. 2002). Beato. Lucknow.‖ in India Through the Lens: Photography 1840-1911. 18. Introduction to Orientalism.J.artstor. 2008. 25. 1-28: 3 21. 1858—1859. 1858. 163-75. Deen Dayal. 2000). 16. Fazal Sheikh. 19th century. 6. ―Topography and Memory: Felice Beato’s Photographs of India. black and white photograph.: Freer Gallery. 1978). Great Buddhist Stupa. Moksha.: Freer Gallery. Picturesque Views. As seen in Sheikh. Sampson.‖ 167.‖ 9. ed. Picturesque Views.‖ Public lecture given at the University of North Texas. Raja Deen Dayal.T. 280. Felice Beato. David Harris. W. 19. 4. Dehejia. Fazal Sheikh.‖ in India through the Lens: Photography 1840-1911. Victoria and Albert Museum. Ibid. ―Photographer of the Picturesque: Samuel Bourne. W. Vidya Dehejia 14-5 (Washington.‖ 19.. Deborah Hutton. Hutton.Photography in India Notes 1.: Freer Gallery.‖ History of Photography 31. 7. Deborah Hutton. The Taj with the Fountains. T. ―Shooting Power. Picturesque Views. pg. As seen in Gadebusch. ed. D. ed. Asian Art Museum. 2000). Ibid. 5. 1859. Seva Dasi. London. silver albumen print. 146. Samuel Bourne. India Through the Lens.C. black and white photography. 3. 26. Mitchell. Vidya Dehejia. 119-31. 19th century. November 11. 163. Mitchell. As seen in Hutton. black and white photograph. 2008). 13. 16. As seen in Vidya Dehejia. Said. 2000). India. 2005). 13 10. 5. Samuel Bourne Panoramic View at Chini.C.‖ in India Through the Lens: Photography 1840-1911I. Ibid. Berlin. ―Fixing Shadow. no. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edward Said. TX. University of California. ―Shooting Power. 17. 8. 16. 163. Harris. Denton. As seen in Gadebusch. ―Imperial Landscape. albumen print. from corner of Quadrangle.. College of Visual Arts and Design. 12. Deborah Hutton. 20. 6. Secundra Bagh. part of a public lecture. ed. University of California San Diego. India through the Lens. Gary D. ―Raja Deen Dayal and Sons. (Washington. 22. Raffael Dedo Gadebusch. Sampson. The Olivier Degeorges Collection. ―Shooting Power. ―Raja Deen Dayal and Sons: Photographing Hyderabad’s Famine Relief Efforts. 2005. 5. Hutton.‖ in Landscape and Power. The Taj.

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