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Painted Photographs in India

Specialties of Indian Painted Photographs and the Traces of Women

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2018 27 Seiten

Kunst - Fotografie und Film


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. Photography`s Way to India
2.1. History of Painted Photographs
2.2. Composition of Indian Photographs
2.3. Techniques
2.4. Symbolic Meaning of the Colours

3. The Role of Women
3.1. Portrayed Women
3.2. Women Photographers and Artists

4. Analysis of Painted Photographs with the Iconographical Method
4.1. Comparison of Black-and-White Photographs and its Coloured Versions
4.2. Young Girl Tinting a Photograph

5. Conclusion

6. Chronology: Important Dates and Facts of Indian Photography in the 19th century

7. Inventory List

8. List of Literature

1. Introduction

When people think of India the first things that comes to mind for the majority of them are traditional based things like Indian festivals, Indian garments, colourfulness and the very traditional mentality that Indian people have in their eyes. This is all due to living in a globalised world in which people have more and easier possibilities to travel, to network and use different kinds of media. In the 19th century not everything was developed as it is now and all those named possibilities were limited. In addition to that there was no gender equality and some things were only available for the financially better off. One medium that was not available for everyone after the time of its invention during the 19th century was the camera.

The camera also found its way to India and photography was not only practiced there by Europeans but also by natives and women. However, early Indian photographers didn’t find as much International recognition as European and American photographers. It is also important to mention that photographs of both differ in many ways from each other. This brings us back to the traditional view that is generally spread among Europeans and other persons about Indian people. It makes one wonder if we can also find traditional approaches projected on photography in India and it makes one also wonder who the artists were.

In order to find out if there were really traditional elements projected on Indian photographs in the early ages of photography, this term paper will deal with a specialty that Indian Photography had in the 19th century: Painted Photographs. Another key element will be the inclusion of women. Even though we know about female European photographers, there is not as much information on female Indian photographers. Another important aim is to find out if women were a part of photography in general and also of the artistry of Painted Photography.

Therefore, I will first give an overview on historical and also some technical facts about Indian photography and Indian Painted Photographs in the first part of the paper. The second part will concentrate on women; especially portrayed ones and photographers and it will also try to present proof of women who practiced hand colouring as artists. In order to apply the outcomes of the above, I will analyse some Painted Photographs in the last chapter.

2. Photography’s way to India

Just a year after the invention of the Daguerreotype, in 1839, the art of photography found its way to India very quickly, in the year 1840 (cf. Falconer, 9). The medium and art of photography was introduced to the Indian nation and its population by, in our terms, foreigners: Armed Forces of the East India Company (cf. Alkazi, 7). Not only was photography introduced to Indians by foreigners, but it was also first practiced and later taught to them by foreigners. The first natives who practiced photography were native rulers and people from the elite and only then it became accessible to the middle class and also to women (cf. Alkazi, 7). We can assume it was only the upper class first because of financial reason due to photography being expensive and only being accessible to people with time to practice it and money to be able to afford it.

Looking at Indian photographs, it is not only remarkable that they differ in their composition of light and space to European photographs, but also in their artistry (cf. Gutman, 15). Something that makes Indian photographs from the 19th century differ the most to other kinds of photographs is the art of the Painted Photographs.

2.1. History of Painted Photographs

Although Daguerre’s invention offered a possibility to create a new kind of way to create pictures, it still had a lack: being colourless (cf. Chladek, 126). There clearly was a general desire for colour. This can be proven through the announcements about a new way of taking coloured photographs, which appeared in the British Journal regularly (cf. Gutman, 16). Further proof is given by the attempts of European and American photographers: Since the birth of photography in the 19th century, there have been attempts by photographers in Europe and America to warm up the black white images by applying pastel- colours on them (cf. Chladek126). One reason for that was to “avoid associations with illness and sickness” (Chladek, 126) another reason for hand colouring photographs was to make changes or corrections. One example for that is the Swiss photographer Johann Baptist Isenring (1796-1860), who is the reason why

Switzerland can be considered as the birthplace of hand-tinted Daguerreotypes (cf. Heinisch, 21). After him, in the time between 1860 and 1890, “the idea of colouring photographs simultaneously appeared (...) in the British Journal of Photography ” (Allana, 25).

Even though there was an existing desire and some attempts in warming up and correcting Daguerreotypes in Western countries, hand painting of photographs was being rejected because this made the impression for them as if the picture was not good and needed correction (Gutman, 15).

In contrast to that, hand colouring photographs was really popular in Asian countries and it was probably most popular in India (cf. Heinisch, 204). In fact, as Chladek says “Indian portrait studios took this practice to another level” (Chladek, 128). This statement will explain itself throughout the paper.

As a culture which embraces colour in every aspect of life the invention of the Westerners, the Daguerreotype, was only alive when added some colour (cf. Alkazi, 7).

The art of the Painted Photographs in India is based on a form of art which was practiced a long time ago before the invention of photography: Paintings (cf. Allana, 9), with which there can be parallels found in form and composition and the art of Miniature Painting1 (cf. Johnson, 1).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1: Lady With a Lotus [18th century]

Fig. 1 shows some similarities, like the use of colour, background and ornaments, between the art of miniature painting and Painted Photographs. This shows that painted photographs drew on traditions of the Indian culture (cf. Ohta) and gives us the idea that photography was not just an artistry on its own but more like a new way of creating pictures: “Hand painted Indian photographic portraits were not taken - they were made” (Chladek, 132). As Gutman described her experience in India for asking for photographs, there is no distinction between pictures and photographs both (still) are or were used to be called pictures (cf. Gutman, 106).

The majority of the black and white photographs were taken to be coloured (cf. Gutman, 112) and these were then being almost completely or completely painted (cf. Chladek, 128). While this was rejected by Westerners, adding colour was the most popular and naturalistic way for Indians to perceive photographs (cf. Gutman, 15).

2.2. Composition of Indian Photographs

In order to deal with Indian Photography and Indian Painted Photographs it is essential to develop a general understanding of the composition of Indian Photographs first.

Even though photography was adopted and learned by natives just after a short time of its invention, Indian photographs taken by natives didn’t get as much international attention as photographs taken by European photographers (cf. Chladek, 126). To answer the question, what the cause for that was, it has to be kept in mind that 19th century photographs from native photographers and European photographers differ in many ways of each other. The influence of photography in India was in general different to the influence it had in the Western countries (cf. Mitter, 17).

The two main differences lie within their compositions and perceptions. When looking at Indian photographs the first thing that one would realise, is that there is a different usage of light and space than one is used from photographs from Western countries (cf. Gutman, 15). This is due to the culture of the Indians themselves. It can be said that Indians took up the invention of the Europeans but adopted it to their own “visual sensibilities” influenced by their culture (cf. Chladek, 126). One influence was the art of miniature paintings, which was described before. A comparison of an Indian Painting and an Indian Photograph shows that there are parallels between those two. These show “compressed space”, usage of “unique patterns of composition” and “radically altered uses of light” which sometimes makes the people in the pictures look like they are coming out of the picture (cf. Gutman, 15). This was also the consequence of their way of presenting the figure from the frontal view rather than from profile view (cf. Heinisch, 207).

Fig. 2 is an example for being photographed straight forward. The photograph shows a native male child in a seated position in the centre of the picture. He is wearing traditional clothes and jewellery. The background has been arranged, which is full of elements like paintings, windows, a plant and a column. The size of the boy and the background is disproportional as the boy is much bigger than everything else. This also gives the impression as if the boy will fall out of the picture or come towards the observer.

Going further into the level of analysis, it becomes clear that this photograph was probably taken as a portrait. One reason for this is the child is the main focus. Another reason for it to be a portrait is the scenery in the background which is posed and looks quite decorative. Therefore, this photograph is one of the best examples for showing the parallels of 19th century Indian photographs and miniature paintings.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig.2. Kahya Lall, son of Priya Lall 1885; gelatine/chloride 3 7/8 x 2 7/8; Priya Lall of Priya Lall & CO.; courtesy of Raj Bahadur of Priya Lall

In addition to the composition there is another important factor that makes

Indian photographs differ from others: the usage of symbols and colour, which can be especially found in Painted Photographs. Those did not only provide information about the Indian culture but also about the figures represented in the pictures (cf. Chladek, 128), which will be further discussed in 2.4.

As a conclusion it can be said that the way that natives composed photographs and highlighted figures through colours and symbols represent their way of how they have perceived themselves (cf. Chladek, 126).

2.3. Techniques

The 1860s represent a chapter of increased creative work in photography in India (cf. Falconer, 10). One of the successfully used creative approaches is painting photographs. Painted Photographs embody the unity of a new medium, photography, and an old medium, the art of painting, which was actually meant to be replaced by photography (cf. Heinisch, 29).

The painting of photographs is an artistry that involves six different skills: retouching, finishing, water colouring a background, outlining the figures, painting enlarged oil paintings and again water colouring (cf. Gutman, 106-107). Hence it was not the work of only one artist, but in contrast to the Western view, of several (cf. Chladek, 128).

The first skill is the technique to retouch or “pink” the negative with red or pink colour. In other words, the artist smoothed the photograph by minimising dark areas (cf. Gutman, 106). The next step is called “Finish”, which was done with crayon; charcoal and pumice to soften harsh light (cf. Gutman, 106). The third skill required someone to create a background or other subjects with watercolours as in 18th century paintings (cf. Chladek, 128). Fig. 3 is an example for the addition of a background. “Another artist outlined figures in a photographic print for silhouetting” (Gutman, 106). The two main skills, painting enlarged oil portraits and colouring the photograph with watercolour called again for other artists, which were highly respected for working directly with colour (cf. Gutman, 107).


1 Miniature Painting is in our context the popular form of art in the 17th and 18th century ; it is the proficiency of painting small pictures on porcelain, cans and ivory (Autor


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ISBN (Buch)
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Bergische Universität Wuppertal
Fotografie Fotografie Geschichte Frauenfotografe Indien Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte




Titel: Painted Photographs in India