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Bourne & Shepherd


Since the advent of photography in the 19th century, India has played subject to the lens of  a whole host of travellers making their way through the variegated subcontinent in an attempt to capture its spirit and their journey. With the intensification of British presence in India, British photographers were at the forefront of this scene, producing a consumable image of India for those back home – as the jewel in the crown of the Empire. These early representations of India were largely constructed with a certain formal compulsion for the 'picturesque', an aesthetic tradition prevalent at the time in Europe that had roots in the Romanticism of an earlier century.

One of the most famous of the early European commercial photographer-cum-adventurers, and the most prolific photographer of the picturesque, Samuel Bourne arrived in India in 1863. A former clerk in a Nottingham bank, Bourne abandoned his position in favour of a photographic career in India that seemed to combine beautiful landscapes with an expanding commercial potential. Undertaking several expeditions in the seven years he spent here, including some extremely perilous journeys, Bourne photographed the expanse of Imperial India: from the Himalayas down to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka).

Initially partnering with William Howard, Bourne set up the Howard & Bourne studio in Shimla. They were joined by Charles Shepherd, and with the leaving of William Howard, the studio dropped his name to become Bourne & Shepherd. In 1866, in alignment with a growing culture of studio-photography, the Bourne & Shepherd establishment set up a branch in Calcutta, where it soon became one of the most prestigious studios of its time — patronised heavily by royalty, nobility, Europeans, Indians and a mushrooming upper middle class; and where it still trades, as one of the oldest studios in the world, to this day.

While Shepherd became more known as a master printer, staying back to head the business and commercial side of operations and handle the bulk of portraiture at the studio; Bourne assumed  the position of the travelling photographer, immortalising the Indian scenery, architecture and people through the length and breadth of the country. Drawn from the MAP (Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore) collection, this exhibit showcases their wide range of expression through its selection of landscapes, topographical views and portraits produced by Samuel Bourne, Charles Shepherd and others of the Bourne & Shepherd studio.