Picturesque Authenticity in Early Archaeological Photography in British India

Chapter
Part of the Transcultural Research – Heidelberg Studies on Asia and Europe in a Global Context book series (TRANSCULT)

Abstract

In the early years of photography and archaeology in colonial India, from the middle of the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, the character of early archaeological photography was informed both by notions of empire as well as by artistic traditions that originated in Europe—namely, English picturesque landscape painting.

In this study attention is given to an overt transcultural process as exemplified in the entanglement of the picturesque aesthetic and the photographic images of ruins. This article addresses archaeological practice in colonial India and focuses particularly on notions of authenticity in both photographs and conservation philosophies. Like the picturesque pictorial tradition—in which one of the central subject matters was architectural remains depicted as having been reconquered by nature and time—colonial conservation principles for the preservation of Indian sites revealed an obsession with ruins. This suggested that, however much in decay, a building’s original work was of infinitely more historical value than any later or new work. In the field of archaeology the qualities of photography, which were understood to communicate ‘stern fidelity,’ made the medium a much-appreciated tool for maintaining ‘authentic’ records of the ruination of Indian monuments. Both the photographer and the archaeologist sought to preserve a ruin in the physical condition that it was first received. In this way, notions of the picturesque aesthetic were translated to colonial archaeological practice with the approval of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Keywords

Archaeology Photography Authenticity Picturesque Colonial India 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cluster of Excellence ‘Asia and Europe in a Global Context’Heidelberg UniversityHeidelbergGermany

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