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Indepth Arts News:

"Temples and Castles: 19th Century Indian Architectural Photography"
2004-11-12 until 2004-11-26
Bachmann Eckenstein
Basel, , CH Switzerland

The study of Indian architecture was of an importance extending beyond the examination of the country’s purely artistic heritage. It should be seen, in the absence of extensive written records, as one of the most valuable ways of approaching a general history of the subcontinents. “In fact, the architecture of the country may be considered as a great stone book, in which every tribe and race has written its annals and recorded its faith and that in a manner so clear that those who run may read (James Fergusson, 1866).

In India the traditional and archaic way of documenting the imagery of exotic worlds by commissioned painters has come to an end in 1851. A resident British artist was officially assigned by the East India Company to make studies of the sculptures at Elephanta and to prepare drawings and measurements of the caves. But three an a half years later there still was no end in sight. A short statement that would have important implications for photography in India, the company wrote: We take this opportunity of directing your attention to photography, with a view to economy, [photography] should be used for obtaining copies of he sculptures in the caves.

In 1855 the East India Company directed the government in Bombay to discontinue to employment of any draftsmen in the delineation of antiquities and to employ photographers instead. They expressed their desire that this method be generally substituted throughout India. Further support for photography was offered in the same year by the introduction of classes in photography at various educational institutions and photographic societies, with both British and Indian enthusiasts, which had been established in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras.

Much of the architectural photography of the 1860s was produced by commercial photographers who sold to visitors and residents. The quantity of such material making its way back to Europe may have had a stimulating effect, for by the second half of the decade, interest in the study and preservation on Indian architecture was once again beginning to grow.

The Paris Exhibition of 1867 the photographic display consisted of about 500 representations of Indian buildings. This in turn encouraged the Indian government once more to assume responsibility in the matter. In August 1867 instructions were issued regarding the desirability of conserving ancient architectural structures, or their remains, and other works of art in India, and of organizing a system for photographing them. Mindful of the costs of past projects, the government was of the opinion that competent amateurs, who might in some circumstances be reimbursed for basic expenses, would be sufficient to carry through such a plan.

By the early 1870s the influx of uneven amateur material led to assert that in the long run hiring professional photographers might be a more economical way of compiling such records. But even before this decision had been made, several professions had been employed in the late 1860s as a result of the renewed importance accorded to photographic documentation. This led to a new burst of activity in this field.

791 - Bodhgaya - Maintower
Johnston & Hoffmann
India, 20th century, c.1900
Gelatin silver photograph
With archival quality, acid-free mat, plus frame
H: 28.90 cm L: 23.40 cm

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