British photographic history

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Exhibition: Fred Bremner’s Vision of India

In 1889, upon returning from a trip home and after finishing his term working for his brother-in-law in Lucknow, Bremner set up on his own in Karachi. Over the years he based himself in studios from Karachi to Lahore during the winter, moving to mountainous towns such as Simla during the stifling summers.

Like many commercial photographers in India he relied on portraiture to keep his business operating on a day-to-day basis but he still found time to complete personal projects. In 1900, he produced a collection of photographs called ‘Baluchistan Illustrated’, showing the diversity of the landscape and local customs. Several of his photographs depict apparently everyday scenes, although on closer inspection many are artfully arranged compositions.

Bremner produced several photographs of Indian artisans at work which hint at the abundance of material wealth that placed India at the heart of Britain’s colonial economy. Such images satisfied the huge interest in the subcontinent that had been fuelled by the International Exhibitions of London (1886) and Glasgow (1888). Displaying a rich selection of art wares, fabrics, carpeting, carved furniture and curiosities, these major events catered to the European consumer’s conception of India. The 1888 Exhibition, which included demonstrations by native craftsmen, presented Victorian Glaswegians with the opportunity to observe at close quarters some of the more ‘exotic’ subjects of their Empire.

Throughout his travels Bremner was struck by the expanse of the Indian landscape. His photographs often used the familiar European visual language of the Picturesque, nowhere more so than in Kashmir. Travelling there in 1896, he was following in the footsteps of poets, artists and early photographers. Like countless others before him he compared the scenery to that of Switzerland, writing: ‘Switzerland is without the charm of oriental life, the quaint manners and customs of the people . . . which all add to the attractions of a trip to the Valley of Kashmir’.

Details of the exhibition can be found here. On 8th November, Sheila Asante, Migration Stories Curator, gives an insight into this photographic display which explores the work of Bremner and his forty years working on the Indian subcontinent.

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