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    Bengal Photographic Society

    Map Academy

    Articles are written collaboratively by the EIA editors. More information on our team, their individual bios, and our approach to writing can be found on our About pages. We also welcome feedback and all articles include a bibliography (see below).

    An organisation of photographers established in 1856 in Calcutta (now Kolkata), the Bengal Photographic Society was formed with the aims of supporting and promoting the practice of photography across India and providing its members a platform to discuss and exhibit their work.

    By the time the Society was established, photography had become more affordable than earlier, making it more accessible and thus more popular among amateurs, who were also encouraged by the sustained patronage of Charlotte Canning, a painter herself and an avid private collector of photographs. The success of the Photographic Society of Bombay, established two years prior, and the growing role of photography in the colonial mission provided the impetus to form a photographic society in Calcutta, which was then the administrative capital of the Raj. Because it represented the capital, and by extension all of colonial India, it took under its purview not just local practitioners and photography enthusiasts but also those from other parts of the country who wished to participate in the larger surveying, documentation and record-keeping projects in the colony, which by now had become official mandates of the Crown.

    First headed by surgeon Frederic J Mouat (1856–57), the Society comprised military officers, commercial photographers, interested civilians and antiquarians as its members. During its first meeting that year, it had a total of twenty-three members, including three professional women photographers – Mrs. E Mayer, Mrs. T Thompson and Mrs. CB Young – and, according to reports, two Indians who held the posts of secretary and treasurer. SOme sources have claimed that one of these founding members was antiquarian Rajendralal Mitra, who was expelled in 1857 following his public denunciation of the labour practices of indigo planters and causing the subsequent resignation of other Indian members as well the Surveyor General, Major Henry Thuiller. This controversy, however, had little effect on the public reception of the Society

    The Society held its first exhibition in March 1857, in which 460 photographs of both members and non-members were displayed and judged on merit of their topicality, technical finesse and artistry. The featured works of the predominantly British photographers, such as Josiah Rowe and John Murray, spanned the genres of landscape, architecture and portraiture (of Europeans) to which an exception was provided by Narayan Daji’s ethnographic studies. The same year saw the launch of its publication, Journal of the Photographic Society of Bengal, which featured articles on photography, news and the Society’s proceedings. Thus, owing to its pan-national outlook and the status associated with its location at the capital, as well as the growing popularity of photography itself, the Society expanded its membership over the next six years to nearly 250.

    Besides showcasing the works of its own members, it also successfully promoted, through its Journal and exhibitions, the works of eminent and upcoming photographers such as Samuel Bourne, Felice Beato, Ahmed Ali Khan and Harriet and Robert Tytler, among others. After 1863, however, it began to experience a dip in membership and is believed to have been dissolved around 1876.



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