SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Topographical Photography, the Colonial Sublime, and the Authorities of Presence: Robert Gill in Nineteenth-Century India

Nathaniel Stein (Brown University)

Date: 29 February 2012Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 29 February 2012Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B111

Type of Event: Seminar

Scholars have long understood that European makers of topographical paintings, prints, and drawings of the subcontinent mobilized the languages of art as well as scientific observation to construct their own authority.  The nineteenth-century advent of photographic surveys is often understood to comprise and typify a shift towards systematic fixation, mechanical objectivity, and the epistemology of the institutional archive. Yet, even in the context of surveys sponsored by the British colonial government, the arrival of photography did not actually close down the gambits of self-reference that characterized earlier, non-photographic forms of colonial representation.  Rather, photography changed the range of ideas, tools, visual languages, and frames of reference with which image-makers could engage.  This paper explores the ways in which photographic representation of architectural sites became a way to mediate and give meaning to the image-maker's position at an intersection of local and imperial knowledges and affinities.  In particular, it examines the photography of Robert Gill (1804-1879), a London-born military officer who came to play an important role in the systematic visual inventory of Indian topography -- most notably at Ajanta, but also at other sites in the region of present-day Maharashtra.  More broadly, the paper raises questions about the ways in which we think about colonial archives, photographic authority, and modes of identity-formation available to British colonial subjects.

Organiser: Crispin Branfoot

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