The Cultural Impact of Photography in India
The rise of photography in the Indian subcontinent began with import of the first daguerreotype cameras in 1840 by Thacker and Company, a firm in Calcutta that specialized in novelty imports for ‘Europe shops’ for European residents in India. The camera transformed from a cheap and simple novelty item or ‘toy’ to a more sophisticated device for art and commercial photography according to an import notice by the company that described the daguerreotypes as ‘the new art of sun drawing.’ F. Schranhofer was the first famous commercial photographer, and he took the first calotype photographs in his studio in Kyd Street in 1949.
The official interaction between photography and the Indian culture started in the mid-1850s, where native retailers introduced them as a new commodity stock that gave them an advantage over their competitors in vying for business with Europeans. Official photography had a significant social and political impact on the culture of India, and it took precedence with the involvement of the government, commercial photographers, and private photography agencies. The first photographs by the British government were commissioned geographical colony plans for the division and rule of the Asian subcontinent. The colonial government believed in the archival value of pictures because of how it facilitated the study and preservation of valuable information and supplemented other instruments of governance (“Archives and Origins: The Material and Vernacular Cultures of Photography in India”).
The evolution of photography in India had a significant social impact concerning its rise as a new art form or mode of representation in the mid-19th century. Raja Deen Dayal developed an unconventional style of photography that made him a celebrated and distinct 19th-century Indian photographer. He captured the first-time experiences and encounters of Indian natives and traditional leaders with an original camera and portrayed them in the context of a modern identity (Müller, 928). The article posits that the development of photography as a new medium resulted in the rise of an empowered middle class and an improving economy.
Photographs present the Indian cultural side more effectively through the different archives and sources, including the central India Office Collection and private collections such as Delhi’s Alkhazi Collection of Photography. Photographic societies were developed first in Bombay in 1854, then in Bengal and Madras in 1857 to teach and familiarize more people with the principle and practice of photography. Some traditional rulers, including the Maharaja of Benaras and other princesses, took photographs and some classes. The earliest social impact of photography in India was the widespread opening of photo studios in major cities at the beginning of the 20th century because people did not have to travel months through long distances to get their photographs developed.
In conclusion, India’s photographic history developed as a result of specific political and social conditions that also influenced its evolution into a dominant form of art, communication, and historical source, as seen in the modern times. The British colonial era was instrumental in the significant transformation of the camera to a vital piece of media technology. It is also significant to note that photography plays a significant role in portraying the material culture of India beyond the evocative appeal of the image content.
“Archives and Origins: The Material and Vernacular Cultures of Photography in India.” U-M Library Digital Collections, quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0004.103/–archives-and-origins-the-material-and-vernacular-cultures?rgn=main;view=fulltext.
“The New Medium: Exhibiting the First Photographs Ever Taken in India.” British Journal of Photography, 19 June 2015, www.bjp-online.com/2015/06/the-new-medium-exhibiting-the-first-photographs-ever-taken-in-india/.
Blaney, Aileen, and Chinar Shah, eds. Photography in India: from archives to contemporary practice. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
Müller, Katja. “Photography in India: From Archives to Contemporary Practice.” (2018): 927-929.