- 26 December 2016
In the latest issue of British Art Studies Sean Willcock focuses on the deployment of the camera during a moment of acute political crisis in nineteenth-century India, when both the significance and the scope of British power were highly unstable, arguing that photography’s unique formal features enabled colonials to picture a precarious imperial sovereignty as a viable mode of political administration. The ability of photography to objectify and “other" colonized populations has been well documented, but the efficacy of imperialism as a mode of imperial governance was as much a function of imagining shared political horizons as it was about constructing divisive racial hierarchies.
The levelling aesthetic of photography—its capacity to draw heterogeneous peoples into what Christopher Pinney has termed a “common epistemological space”—meant that it could serve as a visual register for the elusive connective tissue of imperial subjecthood, effectively reifying a useful political abstraction. Yet, as much as British sovereign authority could be embodied by this visual logic, British identity could simultaneously be dissolved by the homogenizing grammar of the medium. Looking in particular at the palliative, diplomatic role played by the photographic portraiture of Dr John Nicholas Tresidder in the immediate aftermath of the Indian Rebellion (1857–59), this article assesses how photography engaged with warfare’s social upheavals in complex, richly textured and unpredictable ways.
To read the full article please click here.