maandag 20 december 2010

the People of India Dr John Forbes Watson John William Kaye Gerry Badger's Choice of Company Photobooks Photography

The People of India
The People of India is one of the most important 19th century attempts to harness photography to an ethnographic project.

People of India: the Gurung of Nepal

The People of India is an extraordinary document, which was published in eight volumes between 1868 and 1875, under the editorship of Dr John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye. Its 480 plates, depicting the various castes and tribes of India, have ensured its place among the most important 19th century attempts to harness photography to an ethnographic project.

The accompanying text makes uncomfortable reading in the post-colonial era, yet at the time was used tojustify and reinforce the dominance of English rule. We learn, for instance, of Zahore Begum, a Kashmir Musulmani, who follows the profession of a courtesan: “As may be supposed, her character is not very respectable…”

By contrast, the women grasscutters of Madras are “a very industrious and useful race”. John Falconer, Curator of Photographs at the British Library, has made an interesting study of the origins of the project.

He notes that in the introduction to the first volume, credit for the patronage and encouragement of the project is given to Governor-General Lord Canning and to Lady Canning, who wanted in effect a photo album to carry home with them “which might recall to their memories the peculiarities of Indian life”. The work’s journey from a semi-private collection to a published work remains largely unresolved, though there are some clues.

Watson, J. Forbes (John Forbes), 1827-1892. publisher
The People of India A Series of Photographic Illustrations, with Descriptive Letterpress, of the Races and Tribes of Hindustan. 1868
8 items
London C. Whiting Beaufort House, Strand 1868-1875

John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye assembled this ethnologic study collection from photographs made by British photographers in India. The collection documents the caste and culture groups of India for a British India Office multi-volume publication. A graduate of Aberdeen University in England, John Forbes Watson (1827-1892) served as an assistant surgeon in the Bombay Medical Services from 1850 to 1853. While in India, Watson began to research Indian agricultural resources. In 1858, he became reporter on the products of India for the India Office in England. A year later, he became director of the India Office's India Museum, devoted to promoting trade in the British Empire. While there, he published several monographs on Indian plants and textiles. In 1867, he was appointed keeper of the museum, and served in that capacity until he retired in 1879.

John William Kaye (1814-1876) was secretary of the India Office's Political and Secret Department.

Photographers represented include J.C.A. Dannenberg, R.H. DeMontmorency, E. Godfrey, W.W. Hooper, H.C. McDonald, J. Mulheran, G. Richter, Shepherd & Robertson (later as Bourne & Shepherd), B. Simpson, B.W. Switzer, H.C.B. Tanner, C.C. Taylor, and J. Waterhouse.

Taken in the 1850s and 1860s, these photographs portray the people of many castes, culture groups, and occupations in India, posed individually and in groups. Indian culture groups portrayed include Bhogta, Bhoti, Chero, Dombo, Gond, Gujarati, Ho, Kachari, Kishangarh, Kota, Lepcha, Mishmi, Munda, Naga, Pahari, Paithan, Rajput, Saora, Singpho, Thakur, Tharu, and Toda. Peoples portrayed are from parts of India and surrounding areas, now in Afghanistan, Burma, Iran and Pakistan, such as Assam, Bareli, Behat, Cachar, Chittagong, Delhi, Hazara, Hisar, Kohat, Lahore, Madras, Munjpur, Mysore, Palamau, Shahabad, Shahjahanpur, Sikkim, and Sind.

Occupations illustrated include barbers, blacksmiths, carpenters, charcoal carriers, farmers, fish vendors, horse dealers, interpreters, landlords, mendicants, merchants, officials, priests, warriors, and water carriers. Activities shown include dancing and knitting. Artifacts and material culture documented include books, buildings, devotional objects, tools, and weapons such as bows, clubs, shields, guns and spears.

The collection is composed of 8 bound volumes with 470 albumen photoprints mounted alongside text. Photographs are arranged by region, with culture group and region, some also with name and occupation of subjects.

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