Sculpted fragments at archeological site (c. 1860s), unidentified photographer, Albumen print (#1527) (all images courtesy the Getty Research Institute)

The Los Angeles-based Getty Research Institute (GRI) has announced the acquisition of over 4,600 photographs taken across India and South Asia during the 19th and early 20th centuries amidst the British Raj’s 89-year rule over the subcontinent, before Indian independence in 1947. 

The collection, amassed by 19th-century photography dealers Ken and Jenny Jacobson over five decades, includes many images of the region as seen through a European lens and the Western gaze. The trove is set to be catalogued over the coming years and will be made available for GRI researchers interested in re-examining the social and cultural perspectives of South Asia throughout colonialism and rapid urbanization.

Bourne & Shepherd, portrait of Jung Bahadur Rana, first minister of Nepal and founder of the Rana dynasty and his second wife

Incorporating a range of photographic processes from daguerreotypes to photochromes, the conglomerated body of work sheds light on the modes in which the “princely states functioned under imperial British Rule.”

Of the images that the GRI shared with Hyperallergic, the subject matter includes portraiture of noteworthy South Asian Minister Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal’s totalitarian Rana Dynasty with his second wife in elaborate Nepali attire, landmarks adorned with Buddhist iconography and sculptures, and the gopuram, or elaborate monumental entrance point, of the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, a large city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The GRI noted that the collection represents the work of 235 photographers, 61 of whom are Indian. Other contributors hail from Britain, France, Germany, Zanzibar, China, and the US. A majority of the photographers are not incorporated into the collections of other American institutions, indicating that these documents will provide US-based researchers with new and illuminating insights into the study of South Asia during this particular period.

Nicholas & Co., “The Great Gopuram of the Temple”

“The collection’s sheer breadth and scope presents multiple and intersecting avenues for study: besides providing a critical mass of new material for re-examining the current history of photography in South Asia, there is an abundance of visual documents which would serve as primary sources for scholars investigating South Asian history and culture,” said Frances Terpak, the Getty’s senior curator of photographs, in a January 17 statement.

Previously, the GRI acquired its first Jacobson collection of photography in 2008, including 4,500 images of the Middle East and North Africa taken by over 160 photographers between 1850 and 1920, during which the exotic allure of “the Orient” region (as it was formerly known) was the object of curiosity and desire in the Western pop culture.

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Rhea Nayyar

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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