Photo Essay: Illuminating India: Photography 1857-2017

From Sweet Life © Sohrab Hura


Featuring contemporary work by image-makers such as Sohrab Hura, Olivia Arthur, and Vasantha Yogananthan, as well as archive images dating back to the 1850s, this huge exhibition highlights the history of the medium and the country.

06 October 2017 | Eoin Murray| British Journal of Photography

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Indian independence, and London’s Science Museum is celebrating with two major shows – one celebrating photography on the subcontinent, the other its many innovations in science and technology.

Illuminating IndiaPhotography 1857-2017, is the first exhibition to document the history of photography in India, and includes both archive and contemporary work. It includes images by India’s first known photographer Ahmad Ali Khan, pioneering art photographer Marahaja Ram Singh II, the country’s first female photojournalist, Homai Vyarawalla; and award-winning contemporary photographers such Magnum’s Sohrab Hura.

It also includes images of India taken by non-Indians, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Werner Bischof, Margaret Bourke White, Lucien Hervé, Mitch Epstein, Vasantha Yogananthan, and Olivia Arthur.


Anwesh Kumar Sahoo former Mr Gay India, photographed on Juhu Beach, India, 2017 © Olivia Arthur/Magnum Photos


Lovebird, Ramtek, Maharashtra, India, 2015, from the series A Myth of Two Souls (2013 -) © Vasantha Yogananthan


Many of the works on display are on show for the first time in the UK, with works sourced from several international collections. Pivoting around key dates in India’s recent history – the Indian Rebellion against the British East India Company in 1857 and the independence of 1947 – the exhibition hopes to highlight photography’s importance in documenting the subcontinent’s ever-changing culture, landscape, architecture, and people.

The second exhibition, Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science and Innovation highlights scientists, technologists and thinkers from throughout Indian history. Works on display range from the earliest standardised weights, dating back to the Indus Valley Civilisation of 3000–2500 BCE, to artefacts from India’s flourishing space programme.

Printmaker, sculptor, photographer and filmmaker Chila Kumari Burman has also been commissioned to make a series of artworks in response to the theme of Illuminating India, and throughout the season The Science Museum will also host a series of film screenings, workshops, panel discussions and live performances on India.

“India’s history and culture are built on a rich tradition of scientific thought and innovation,” said Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group. “The stories we will be showcasing through this vibrant season not only shaped India but had global significance.”

Illuminating India: Photography 1857-2017 is on show at the Science Museum until 31 march 2018. Entry is free.

From Sweet Life © Sohrab Hura


From Sweet Life © Sohrab Hura


From Sweet Life © Sohrab Hura


From Sweet Life © Sohrab Hura


Young Warriors, Sitamarhi, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2015, from the series A Myth of Two Souls (2013 -) © Vasantha Yogananthan


The Promise, Janakpur, Nepal, 2016, from the series A Myth of Two Souls (2013 -) © Vasantha Yogananthan


Rama Combing His Hair, Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2015, from the series A Myth of Two Souls (2013 -) © Vasantha Yogananthan


Party Field, Janakpur, Nepal, 2016, from the series A Myth of Two Souls (2013 -) © Vasantha Yogananthan


Cricket Match, Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013, from the series A Myth of Two Souls (2013 -) © Vasantha Yogananthan


Boy Playing Girl, Janakpur, Nepal, 2016, hand painted by Jaykumar Shankar. From A Myth of Two Souls (2013 -) © Vasantha Yogananthan


Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 1985 © Mitch Epstein, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln


Lonavla, Meghraj Cabaret, Bombay, India, 1984 © Mitch Epstein, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln


Shravanabelagola, Karnataka, India, 1981 © Mitch Epstein, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln


Atomic energy plant, Trombay near Bombay, 1966 © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos


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