Indian photography from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century remains ambiguous in history. The Great Within: Photographs of India and the British Raj in the 19th Century features some of the subcontinent’s earliest photographs created in an era when India was a wide-open treasure trove for the British Crown. We hope that these rare, evergreen images will gain wider currency amongst the Indian diaspora and a broader audience.
Our exhibition features prints by photographers and photography studios that worked and operated in India at the time, including Colin Murray, Felice Beato, Raja Deen Dayal and Bourne & Shepherd, one of the oldest photography studios in the world. Patronized by the upper echelons of the British Raj as well as Indian royalty, these artists took to photography, which was swiftly replacing painting as the primary tool for portraiture and documentation, not long after its invention in Europe. Their images feature portraits of Indian princes, Himalayan expeditions, landscape views, and architectural monuments, captured in all their grandeur.
The photographs have been printed from the original prints by Clark Worswick, a renowned photo historian who was also one of the first collectors of this work. He was curator of The Last Empire, a historic exhibition at the Asia Society in 1976, which brought to public attention indigenous Indian photography for the first time. Over a sixty year period, Worswick collected these works, trying to discover amidst decades of searching, both the makers of these photographs with their biographies and the pictures, realizing in the process that this impossibly evanescent oeuvre thrived only for 35- 45 years. Worswick then embraced the task of creating a limited edition series of prints in state-of-the-art carbon inks (with a longevity of almost 400 years) that exceed the quality and lifespan of the original pictures. In an India that is much changed in the last century and half, these important images are in some cases, the only surviving remnants of a bygone era.
Clark Worswick was the founding curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts and the First Research Fellow in Film and photography at Harvard University. He began collecting 19th century Asian photographs in Calcutta during 1959. His books on Indian, Chinese and Japanese 19th century photography were the earliest works to identify scores of non-European artists working in the medium. His books have been named "Best of the Year" by The New York Times, The London Times, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine. For over five decades he has been involved in American documentation projects. He has previously held curatorial positions in photography at the Japan Society (New York); American Federation for the Arts; Houston Photo-Fest; Korea Society (New York) and the Arthur M.Sackler Gallery/The Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC). An authority in the field, works from his collection have been donated to institutions such as the Getty Research Institute, Harvard University Arts Museums and the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.