English amateur photographer Samuel Bourne (1834-1912) was one of the first men to popularize photographic images of India. Bourne began his career in India in 1863 and spent the next seven years traveling through the subcontinent on photographic expeditions. Together with Charles Shepherd he established the firm of Howard, Bourne, and Shepherd, which ultimately became the most successful photographic studio in India. He left India in 1870, but the firm he established continues to operate to this day.
Bourne worked to produce a benign and “truthful” view of India. His photography romanticizes the exotic wilderness of India and its historical buildings and yet was meant to characterize India as a place that could be easily exploited. He was inspired by the conventions of picturesque painting and prints, but his work is semiotically different from these earlier mediums. Photography’s semiotic connection with science linked it to other visual practices such as cartography and surveying, which also seemed to be ways of knowing and recording the land based on real fact. Thus photography wore two hats for men like Bourne: it was mode of representing, which like painting and prints seemed to replicate nature in a two-dimensional form, and it was like a map or a survey because it was produced through a scientific process. Because of its unique hold on both science and representation, photographs like Bourne’s were highly valued expressions of the power of the British Raj.
Sara Miller McCune Collection