Royal India & The British: The Photography of Samuel Bourne & Raja Lala Deen Dayal

The Photographers

राजा लाला दीन दयाल Raja Lala Deen Dayal (1844 – 1905)راجہ لالہ دین دیال

The leading Indian photographer of the late 19th century, Dīn Dayāl was Official Court Photographer to several royal houses, his most prominent patron being the 6th Nizam of Hyderabad, the Muslim ruler of the largest Princely State, who bestowed upon him the title Rāja Bahādur Mussavir Jung (Bold Warrior of Photography).   

Astonishingly, considering British attitudes towards Indians at the time, he was also appointed Official Photographer to the Viceroy (the highest-ranking official of the Raj, who was the symbolic and practical embodiment of British power in India), and to Her Imperial Majesty, Queen Victoria, Empress of India. The Times of India (the newspaper of record for the British colonial government) gave Dayal its highest praise, when it wrote in 1886 that his work “would do credit to any European firm”.

Born in 1844 to a family of Jain jewelers in the small North Indian town of Sardhanā, Dayal trained as a draftsman at Thompson College of Civil Engineering (now IIT Roorkee), where he learned the rudiments of photography. He began pursuing photography professionally in the early 1870s, encouraged to open a studio by the Mahārāja of Indore. He passed away in 1905, after photographing the royal visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King George V and Queen Mary).


Samuel Bourne (1834 – 1912)

Bored by his job as a bank clerk, young Samuel Bourne took up photography in 1855, and by 1862 his photographs were so well received at the London International Exhibition that he quit his job to sail for India, in expectation of great opportunities for picturesque photography.

Arriving in Calcutta (now Kolkata), the then capital of British India, Bourne attended a meeting of the Bengal Photographic Society (which eight years later would award him its Gold Medal), and proceeded across India to Simla (now Shimla), the quaint summer capital of the British Raj located in the cool foothills of the Himalayas, “the best simulacrum of an English country town that the minds of white men frazzled by the subcontinent's sun could devise”.

Pausing only briefly, Bourne left on an expedition into the high Himalayas with a retinue of 30 coolies, returning two months and hundreds of difficult miles later with 147 negatives. He then co-founded what rapidly became the most successful commercial studio in late 19th- and early 20th- century India, Bourne & Shepherd.  Until closing last year, following the tragic loss of over 2,000 glass plate negatives in a Kolkata fire in 1991, it was the oldest continuously-operating photography studio in the world.  

Born in 1834 to a Shropshire farming family, Bourne returned to provincial England in 1870. He sold his interests in Bourne & Shepherd, painted watercolors, and returned to practicing photography as a hobby, until his death in 1912.

Some modern scholars see in Bourne’s work a colonial discourse:

Colonialism and photography have had a close and, from a modern perspective, troubled relationship. The development of mass‐circulation photography and the heyday of colonial expansion were contemporary with one another [and] were part of the vast flow of information on which the colonial project depended. Often colonialism and photography operated in mutually sustaining ways….the landscape photographs of Samuel Bourne (India) and John Thomson (China) are typical of these processes. They made the colonial simultaneously familiar and contained whilst remaining exotic.                                         

"Colonialism and photography." In The Oxford Companion to the Photograph: Oxford University Press, 2005.

The Dictionary of National Biography observes that Bourne was recognized as one of the most successful British photographers to document the expanding British Empire. His photographs were produced primarily for the European market, and provided a glimpse of India as a distant colonized land and its people. Bourne's photographic success was a combination of his impressive photographic skill and ability to present photographs of India that coincided with the Western, Orientalist vision of the exotic East. 

Falconer, John. “Bourne, Samuel (1834–1912).” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., edited by David Cannadine. Oxford: OUP, 2004.

The Photographers