A Fantastic Legacy: Early Bombay Photography
A Fantastic Legacy: Early Bombay Photography
The first exhibition of amazing rare photographs from the city of Bombay, dating from 1840-1900, with an illustrated catalogue.
The first exhibition of amazing rare photographs from the city of Bombay, dating from 1840-1900, with an illustrated catalogue. Read more
About this project
Photography flourished in India during the earliest years of its existence, the 1840s to the 1890s, paralleling its rapid development elsewhere in Europe and North America. The founding of the Photographic Society of Bombay in 1854, just one year after the Photographic Society of London was established, gives some indication of the phenomenally early grasp of this new form of image-making in India.
Thus far, historians have only scratched the surface of Bombay's importance in the early development of photography. It is an underexplored area of knowledge, and there are troves of photographs that reveal compelling facets of this history -- including jewel-like handcolored portraits of prominent citizens, expansive panoramas, racist anthropological studies, and photographs of 19th century urban engineering feats. These fascinating pictures were formerly considered to be personal, scientific, or strictly documentary, but they now fall under the scrutiny of art history and media studies, where they may be assessed as aesthetic and historical images, playing a crucial role in the formation of local identity. This project will contribute new, original scholarship based on research into primary source materials--journals and publications, correspondence, family and institutional archives, and onsite documentation of the studios that are still to be traced in Mumbai.
The proposed project will encompass the introduction of the daguerreotype to Bombay in the 1840s, the activities of the Photographic Society of Bombay (1854-1874), information on the instructional classes at Elphinstone Institution (1855-1857) and elsewhere, and the growth of commercial studios on Meadow Road, Rampart Row, Hornby Road, and Kalbadevi Road. The exhibition will present the work of known British and European photographers Thomas Biggs, Harry Barr, William Harry Pigou, William Johnson, William Henderson, and Samuel Bourne, to name the most well-known practitioners active in Bombay, and will introduce new information about the prominent activities of early Indian photographers who were all making photographs during the same period but have not yet received adequate research or recognition. The project will follow a chronological framework, featuring areas of focus defined by the images' usages and contexts. With clarity and visual power, this project will reveal the formative role that photography played in Bombay. A Fantastic Legacy will elucidate the construction and documentation of individual and urban identity, for the British colonizers and the local residents, during this extraordinarily complex period in India's history.
A selection of roughly 50-100 photographs, including daguerreotypes, salt prints, and albumen prints, large and small formats, will be exhibited at the Max Mueller Bhavan, a professional, non-profit exhibition space that is run by the Goethe Institute in Mumbai. It will be part of the larger FOCUS photography festival that is being planned all over the city of Mumbai during the exact same period.
Also on view will be roughly 20 pertinent documents, including glass plate negatives, historic cameras and photographic albums in display cases. A hands-on area will include useable stereoviewers and stereoviews, and perhaps a small camera obscura, to engage visitors in the project further, and to teach about early photographic history through hands-on learning.
Funding is needed to cover the framing, transportation (crating and shipping), insurance, catalogue preparation (printing and distribution), professional fees (curatorial, editorial, design, promotion), and many other less considerable expenses of organizing an exhibition.
This is a history that is begging to be written! Mumbai citizens, Indian historians, international photography historians, media studies specialists and social anthropologists will want to dig into what this project will bring to light.
PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO COVER THE BASIC COSTS OF THE PROJECT!!!
Risks and challenges
I am qualified to carry out this project, having worked as a full-time professional art curator and art historian for over thirty years of my life. The only significant risk is that my other curatorial projects will get short shrift! This is not a big problem for anyone except me. This project is a labor of true love for me and I have been preparing for this moment, on my own time for the past several years, because I have been unable to stop researching the topic, always knowing that an opportunity would arise to do the show somewhere. Now the opportunity is in my hands, and I am doing everything in my power to raise enough funds to do a great job of it. If I have to scale the project back, I will, but I really hope that doesn't happen, and that the exhibition can be developed to its fullest potential. The exhibition will happen, large or small, comprehensive or basic, in March of next year in Mumbai. It could be the seed for larger projects in the future.
One other challenge I will face is convincing the more reluctant lenders to allow their precious photographs to be lent for a temporary exhibition, even for two weeks. Despite my knowledge of this professional loan negotiation process, and Max Mueller Bhavan's experience presenting art exhibitions, I have already seen that there is some apprehension of lending to temporary exhibitions, so it is more difficult to get loans for exhibitions here than it would be in the United States.
But there is already a fair amount of enthusiasm and interest, and I have the assistance of two fantastic interns who are helping with the project, as well as the dedicated installation and preparations staff of Max Mueller Bhavan once we get to the point of actually installing the exhibition. Further, the project is the historic anchor for the much larger FOCUS photography festival, so this project will have the benefit of getting increased media attention as part of a bigger city-wide attention to the medium of photography.
Given the amount of lead time, if I am able to secure the funding to access loans from outside of Mumbai -- from New Delhi, where there are major holdings (and where I already have had promising discussions about loans), and from some Rajasthani private and government collections, I am confident that this could make a major contribution to scholarship on Indian photography. The field is full of opportunity, and I aim to add new information that is carefully organized and presented, for the local public, and for the broadest public too.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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