Photography was introduced to India in the mid-nineteenth century, with the arrival of the British. Many early photographers were assigned by the British government to document Indian architecture, landscape, religions, and society. Their images, with a romantic and Eurocentric view, provided both their contemporaries and today’s spectators a sense of exoticism and distant memory, and at the same time a sense of visual wonder at the monuments and history of the Indian subcontinent.

The prolific Samuel Bourne (1834–1912), one of the finest artistic photographers of the time, in 1863 joined a partnership in a highly successful commercial studio in India and produced exquisite scenic landscapes. Captain Edmund David Lyon (1825–1891), a former military officer, worked in India as a professional photographer from 1865 to 1869 and was commissioned by the government to photograph antiquities. William Johnson (active ca. 1840s–60s), a founding member of the Bombay Photographic Society in 1854, published the earliest ethnographic study in India that included photography. Johnson’s observational lens freezes his subjects in the capsule of time. Thomas Hesketh Biggs (1822–1905) was appointed as a government photographer in 1854 to document architecture and archaeological sites. Though short-lived, Biggs’s photographic career left important records of Indian monuments.

This exhibition showcases the collection of Dr. Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Barbara Timmer and is organized into four categories: architecture/monuments, religions, culture, and landscape.

Photography of British India 1840s-1910s is generously funded by India Tourism Office (Los Angeles), Government of India.

Featured (top):   Two worshippers in the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque), Agra c. 1870, Photograph, 8 13/32 x 11 in.  Museum purchase from the Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Barbara Timmer Collection with funds provided by the Beatrice Lynds Bequest. 2010.209