Through the Colonial Lens
by Kurt Meyer , , pp.,
August 2006, volume 30, No 8

In several entertaining and insightful com- mentaries on the British Raj, Jan Morris likened much of its work to that of a development agency: building roads and railways, introducing the telegraph and later telephone as well as modern western medical practices and educational methods. Interestingly, though The Spectacle of Empire (London: Faber and Faber, 1982) is in some senses a photographic document of the various activities of the Raj, Morris does not really discuss in any great detail the role of the camera in governance.  After the 1840s, while family photographs provided for a flourishing business, the ‘selling’ of India to the British population at home depended quite a bit on its visual marketability. Visualization was also important in governance – in recording and in surveillance. In 1844, five years after Louis Daguerre had patented the daguerreotype, the East India Company informed its offices in Bengal that as absolute accuracy was essential for drawings and representations, the authorities were sending three of Dolland’s camera lucida to India.  From 1855, cadets at the Military Seminary in Addiscombe were instructed in photography and cameras were despatched to army units in the colony. In the same year, a photographic record of the construction of military barracks was maintained and in the following year, the camera was used to identify possible routes for railway lines.

Continue reading this review