Hurrychund Chintamon (born Harishchandra Chintaman)
One of India’s earliest commercial photographers who specialised in portraiture, Hurrychund Chintamon was based in Bombay (now Mumbai). He received his training at Elphinstone College in 1855 under WHS Crawford, a secretary of the Photographic Society of Bombay, where Chintamon also exhibited his work the following year. He subsequently set up his photography studio in the city, initially photographing members of local mercantile families and later expanding his clientele to aristocracy and important political, administrative and literary figures, including Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy and Manickjee Antarya.
When Elphinstone introduced a course in photography in 1855, under instruction from the British East India Company, Chintamon was among the first batch of forty students to enroll. He graduated in 1856 with distinction, having twice earned the best photographs prize. The same year, he exhibited his photographs at the Bombay Photographic Society, along with others such as Narayan Daji, gaining the visibility he needed to operate as an independent professional. He also went on to produce a number of ethnographic images, some of which were displayed at the Exposition Universelle, or the Paris International Exposition, of 1867 for industrial, art and craft manufactures. His studio, Hurrychund & Co., which he set up at Rampart Row in 1858 flourished until 1881, when it ceased operations.
The development of cost-effective processes such as wet collodion negatives and albumen prints, resulted in a greater demand of family or personal portraits among European residents and the affluent noble and mercantile classes of the local population. While running his studio, Chintamon recognised cost effective techniques, such as the wet collodion process, and also quickly adopted the newly introduced carte de visite format for making albumen-print portraits. The cartes de visite were convenient to mail, exchange and incorporate into albums (that were specially made), making them all the more popular and earning him a steady clientele among the local elite. It was, however, his photograph of Maharaja Malhar Rao of Baroda (now Vadodara) — who appointed him as his official photographer in the late 1960s— that gave his studio a significant boost.
Accompanying the proliferation of independent photography studios in the mid-nineteenth century, was the development of a hybrid aesthetic, seen also in Chintamon’s work. He evolved a visual style that combined the Victorian iconographies of class and refinement with the Indian symbols of ethnicity, caste and status. In staging his sitters, he used the popular European conventions of painted backdrops as well as props such as printed carpets and flower vases. The sitters were often posed or arranged to suggest an air of casualness or informality, in conspicuous contrast to their own self-conscious formality — likely a result of having to hold still during extended individual exposure times. This unintended tension between setting and sitter is another notable characteristic of Chintamon’s portraits.
His oeuvre also consisted of ethnographic images, typically in the form of group portraits of people representing various ethnicities, communities, occupational classes, castes and other social groups. Among the hundreds of such images that he produced were those of communities such as the Prabhus, Marathas, Parsis and Rajputs, photographed in their traditional costumes, carrying weapons, accessories and other markers of social identity. Several of his ethnographic studies were commissioned for use in the records of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and some others featured in the multi-volume album The People of India published for the India Museum, London. The display of some of his works for the 1867 Paris exhibition also attested to his distinction in ethnographic photography.
Despite his commercial success, there is very little information about Chintamon’s personal background or photographic career. It is known that he had been a disciple and representative of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader, and that he was president of the Bombay chapter of the religious group Arya Samaj in 1878. Records also show that he was involved in the merger of the group with the Theosophical Society, but was subsequently expelled following allegations of mishandling funds. The dishonour of his expulsion and his subsequent departure to England spelled the end of his successful photographic practice in India. Although he was later dogged by scandal, it did little to sully his reputation as a photographer.
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The British Library. n.d. “Studio Portrait of a Group of Muslim Men, Bombay.” Accessed 22 February 2021. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/photocoll/s/019pho001000s42u04329000.html
Theosophy World. n.d. “Hurrychund Chintamon.” Accessed 22 February 2021. https://www.theosophy.world/encyclopedia/hurrychund-chintamon