With the invention of photography, the eighteenth-century British passion for recording exotic flora and fauna and for making ethnological studies of the peoples in India was given new impetus. The earliest photography on the continent dates from 1840 in Calcutta, the political center of British India. Paradoxically, the first photographs made there by officers of the British Army were daguerreotypes, a French process; photography on paper, the British invention, arrived in India in the late 1840s. Although the original paper mat on the verso of this daguerreotype is inscribed "Women Grinding Paint," the subjects could be performing one of any number of tasks: grinding indigo, for example, or beetlenut, or spices for curry. All that is certain is that the man in the turban to the right is a follower of the god Shiva, the sustainer-dissolver of the universe. Holy ash, or "bhasma," marks his forehead, while around his neck is a "mala" of "rudraksha" beads, sacred to Shiva. It seems likely that the photographer moved the group outside from a workshop nearby, carefully posing them in the shaft of sunlight that emerged through the slatted canopy. The setting--a quiet alley free of human, animal, or commercial distractions--is artificial even for India in the 1840s. The isolation of the figures, however, together with the respectful, low position of the camera, was employed by the photographer to great advantage.
Inscription: Inscribed in pencil: "Women grinding Paint."
(sold, Phillips, London, Oct. 29, 1986); Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Art of Photography 1839-1989," February 4, 1989–April 30, 1989.
National Gallery of Australia. "The Art of Photography 1839-1989," June 17, 1989–August 27, 1989.
Royal Academy of Arts. "The Art of Photography 1839-1989," September 23, 1989–December 23, 1989.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 25, 1993–July 4, 1993.
Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," August 7, 1993–October 2, 1993.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," June 19, 1994–September 11, 1994.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 68," June 8, 2015–October 5, 2015.
Weaver, Mike, ed. The Art of Photography, 1839–1989. New Haven: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1989. no. 25.
Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 82.