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The Photograph is Proof | Anusha Yadav
A visual history of select criminal Investigations from the Indian Subcontinent {19th - 20th century}

In 1833, William O’Shaughnessy, an Irishman joined the East India Company in Calcutta (now Kolkata), and fulfilled duties of a surgeon, professor of chemistry and a scientist.

Over nine years of his stay in India, he introduced western medicine to the therapeutic use of Cannabis, erected ‘the longest line of Telegraph ever constructed’ and in October of 1839, presented at the Asiatic Society, for the first time, experiments with a new photo drawing that had all of Europe’s attention - the Daguerreotype - a fated presentation that began a photographic revolution in the Indian subcontinent.

After the rebellion of 1857, the British Government initiated an official government study - one of the largest photographic surveys ever conducted - ‘People of India’, with 468 annotated images of native communities undertaken with the hope of a deeper understanding and thus control of Britannia’s ‘colonial subjects’ and avoiding future unrest.

Around the same time, in 1856, Norman Chevers, an English physician in Bengal, accorded photography with even more powers: of freezing time and space, and in so creating an incontestable and objective record of a crime scene or a piece of evidence.

However, not many in the colonial administration were in agreement that photography should be used as a tool to document evidence or criminals. While photography was exciting and endorsed, the logistics, heavy equipment, huge costs and lack of expertise in handling the technology was deemed a burden. Evidence or Forensic Photography was finding itself hard to be justified.

Through most of 20th century, Photography in the subcontinent enjoyed the patronage of the elite and entertainment manufacturers. However, with the Independence struggles gaining momentum, Evidence Photography began to regain favour as a tool to serve politics and power, both for and against the British Raj.

The academic rigour, with which the colonial government used photography augmented into different purposes. Photography encroached and took over Indian tabloids feeding public hunger for voyeurism & sensationalism by reporting crime in vocabularies never seen before. Whereas exposure to Hollywood films and its noir aesthetic inspired several Indian movies and literature and the line between fact and fiction was being blurred. Evidence photography had world over begun to appropriate itself for purposes other than legal proof, and India was no exception. But it took a few decades before evidence photography became a necessity for lawmakers in the subcontinent.

The visual records on display here revisit a few select cases where photographic evidence and the lack thereof, lent itself to a variety of objectives: understanding the criminal act, as a means to an end, voyeuristic entertainment and illicit thrills. They present are a visual rhetoric and a narrativised representation of alleged or proven criminal actions from a largely undocumented and diverse subcontinent.

When confronted with these images we are entering a world few have witnessed first-hand and most of these images have never been seen in public. With the distant past offering an opportunity for evidential narratives to be considered and reconsidered, the images begin to pose more questions than they offer answers; they suggest more than they show. These exposures display a palimpsest of narratives, provoking a frustration of alternate possibilities and secrets – perhaps proof that one can never know the exact truth about our pasts, even with such a seemingly absolute evidence such as a photograph.

This exhibition was first displayed at the Format International Photography Festival in Derby, UK in March 2015

Contributions by : Haldipur Family, Thane Indian Art Studio, Mumbai
Jason Tilley Collection/The Library of Birmingham
National Archives of India, New Delhi
Nehru Memorial & Museum Library, New Delhi
The British Library Board, London
Sabeena Gadihoke, Curator & Writer, New Delhi
V.M Pandit, Former CBI & Private Investigator, New Delhi

Researched & Curated by Anusha Yadav / The Memory Company