This blog post is about my visit to the “Journey of a Studio -Bourne & Shepherd” exhibition during the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). Its venue was Hotel Clark Amer which is famous for its JLF musical evenings. The exhibition was an interesting mix of vintage pictures of India, pop-up stores, and recycled installations by WOLF Jaipur. The vintage pictures on the display were the 19th-century photographs from India clicked by the World’s longest surviving photographic studio in Kolkatta, Bourne & Shepherd. Samuel Bourne, one of its 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 Kolkata. Samuel Bourne, a former bank clerk, arrived in India from Europe in 1836 and traveled widely across the Indian subcontinent, clicking the pictures. He became one of India’s greatest photographers of his era. Charles Shepherd joined him 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 over 2,200 glass plate negatives with the studio which were 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, Colin Murray undertook the photographic work till 1884. Indian royalty, nobles, Europeans, and a mushrooming upper-middle-class heavily patronized the Bourne & Shepherd studio.
The availability of Photographic equipment in the 19th century inspired the European travelers to document their journey and life on the vast Indian sub-continent. Since the British Empire occupied the Indian subcontinent, British photographers were at an advantage. These photographers curated the daily life, people, and street scene of India, they often projected it as a 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 a 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 Fort was vacated around 1729 AD as the capital shifted to Jaipur. It was left and allowed to decay with the passage of time.
The exhibition wasn’t just about the pictures. It also had many collections of garments and showpieces, set up as a pop-up store.
It’s difficult to imagine what Kolkata or Calcutta looked like in the 1860s. Here is a picture of the Calcutta harbor by Samuel Bourne.
Another picture of Kolkata shows the Government house on the old courthouse street in the 1860s.
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 in the famous Ghats of Varanasi.
Shot of the Great Eastern Hotel on Old Court House Street in Kolkata. 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.
They make the tree from the pages of discarded books.
This picture depicts the creative aspect of this exhibition.
There were many pictures from Lucknow, Fatehpur Sikri, Varanasi, Jaipur, Kolkata, 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.
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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. It would interesting to talk about how one of the Jaipur kings was capturing Jaipur on his camera in a similar fashion. Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II was an ardent photography lover. Check out his photography in Photography By Sawai Ram Singh II | Jaipur Thru The King’s Lens
I feel that vintage pictures of India were marginalized by the pop-up stores. These pictures merely acted as a prop to the glitzy merchandise spread all around. While there were salespersons selling the products on display, there was no one to talk about these pictures and their context. There was no connection with the Jaipur Literature Festival. Do you also love vintage pictures?