I recently visited “Journey of a Studio -Bourne & Shepherd” exhibition during Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). It’s venue was Hotel Clarks Amer famous for JLF musical evening. The exhibition was an interesting mix of vintage pictures, pop-up store and recycled installations by WOLF Jaipur. The vintage pictures on the display were the 19th-century photographs from India shot by the World’s longest surviving photographic studio, Bourne & Shepherd. Samuel Bourne,
one of it’s founders was one of the earliest photographers of India.
About Bourne & Shepherd
Bourne & Shepherd was the oldest surviving photo studio in the world that recently closed down in Kolkatta. Samuel Bourne, a former bank clerk, arrived in India from Europe in 1836 and traveled widely across the Indian subcontinent, clicking the pictures. He went on to become one of India’s greatest photographers of his era. He was joined by Charles Shepherd in Shimla in 1863, and in 1866 the duo set up a studio in Calcutta with the name Bourne & Shepherd. In 1870, Samuel Bourne went back to England and sold off his shares in the studio, and left commercial photography, completely. He left his archive of more than 2,200 glass plate negatives with the studio, which were constantly reprinted and sold, over the following 140 years. Samuel Bourne’s work immortalized the Indian landscape and was fervently consumed by the British public in the form of postcards, book illustrations and albums. After Samuel Bourne’s departure, the photographic work was undertaken by Colin Murray till 1884. The Bourne & Shepherd studio was heavily patronized by royalty, nobility, Europeans, Indians and a mushrooming upper middle class”
With the arrival of photography in the 19th century, India continued to inspire the European travelers who wanted to document their journey as well as the spirit & life of the vast Indian sub-continent. Since Indian subcontinent was largely occupied by the British empire, British photographers were at an advantage. These photographers curated daily life, people and street scene of India, which was often projected as the jewel in the crown of an empire. The pictures in this exhibition have already done a few rounds in other cities by the name of “Figures in the Time: Bourne & Shepherd” organized by Tasveer Arts.
Here are few pictures from this show.
The first picture on display in the exhibition was of the famous Amber Fort with the title “Jaipur: The palace from the lake” dating to 1870 AD. If you have ever been to Jaipur and experienced Amer Fort, you can compare how little it has changed, over the years. Even in 1870 AD, it was out of use. The Amer Fort was abandoned around 1729 AD and left on its own to suffer from the ravages of time.
The exhibition wasn’t just about the pictures. It also had many collections of garments and show pieces, set up as a pop-up store.
It’s difficult to imagine how Kolkatta or Calcutta, as it was known then, looked like in 1860’s. Here is a picture of the Calcutta harbor by Samuel Bourne.
Another picture of Kolkatta showing the Government house on the old courthouse street in 1860’s.
Here is a picture of the famous Buland Darwaza from the Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra.
The following picture by Samuel Bourne shows a group of temples on the famous Ghats of Varanasi.
Shot of The Great Eastern Hotel on Old Court House street in Kolkatta. It is one of the oldest functioning heritage hotels in India, now run by the Lalit group of hotels. To get a better sense of this picture, I’m also posting an enlarged copy of this picture.
Here is a motley of pictures from India. The center of attraction here is the famous Taj Mahal in Agra.
The tree in this picture is completely made of pages from the old discarded books.
Here are some more pictures from this exhibition.
This picture depicts the creative aspect of this exhibition.
There were many pictures from Lucknow, Fatehpur Sikri, Varanasi, Jaipur, Kolkatta and the famous Raj-era hill station, Darjeeling. I particularly liked this picture of the famous Darjeeling Train route featuring one of the many loops that fall on this railway line. Darjeeling Train is part of World UNESCO World heritage sites.
Let me reproduce it in an enlarged size.
If you enjoyed reading this post, don’t forget to share it on your social media
To summarize, I think it’s great to see these vintage pictures shot by Bourne & Shepherd studio during the 19th century. It provides an easy comparison of how things looked then and now. I feel that vintage pictures of India were marginalized by pop-up store. These pictures merely acted as a prop to the glitzy merchandise spread all around. While there were salespersons to sell the products on display, there was no one to talk about these pictures and their context. There was no connect with the Jaipur Literature Festival. Do you also love vintage pictures?