Historic facts of Indian architectural photography goes back a long way. The study of Indian architecture was of an importance extending beyond the examination of the country`s purely artistic heritage. It should be noticed, in the absence of extensive written records, as one of the most valuable ways of approaching a general pictorial history of the subcontinents.
In India, the traditional and archaic way of documenting the imagery of exotic architectures by commissioned painters had come to an end in 1851. A resident British artist was officially assigned by the East India Company to make studies of the sculptures at Elephanta and to prepare drawings and measurements of the caves. But three and a half years later there was still no end in sight. A short statement by the company that would have important implications for photography in India, was stated as: We take this opportunity of directing your attention to photography, with a view to economy, photography should be used for obtaining copies of the sculptures in the Caves.
In 1855 the East India Company directed the government in Bombay to discontinue employing any draftsmen in the delineation of antiquities and to utilise photographers instead. They expressed their desire that this method be generally substituted throughout India. Further support for photography was offered in the same year by the introduction of classes in architectural and other kinds of photography at various educational institutions and photographic societies, with both British and Indian enthusiasts, which had been established in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.
Much of the architectural photography of the 1860s was produced by commercial photographers who sold to visitors and residents. The quantity of such material making its way back to Europe may have had an exhilarating effect, because by the second half of the decade, interest in the study and preservation on Indian architecture was once again beginning to grow.
During the Paris Exhibition of 1867, the photographic display consisted of approximately 500 representations of Indian buildings. This in turn encouraged the Indian government once more to assume responsibility in the matter. In August 1867, instructions were issued regarding the desirability of conserving ancient architectural structures, or their remains, and other works of art in India, and of organising a system for photographing them. Attentive about the cost of past projects, the government was of the opinion that competent amateurs, who might in some circumstances be reimbursed for basic expenses, would be sufficient to carry through such a plan. A substantial impetus was given to the further development of architectural photography in India.
By the early 1870s, the influx of uneven amateur material led to assert that in the long run, hiring professional architectural photographers might be a more economical way of compiling such records. But even before this decision was made, several professions had been employed during the late 1860s as a result of the renewed importance accorded to photographic documentation. This led to a fresh burst of activity in the field of architectural photography and preservation.
Working from 1855 to 1857, Captain Thomas Biggs and Dr. William Pigou were the first designated `architectural photographers` of sites in western India. Dr John Murray (1809-1898) of the Bengal Medical Establishment, specialised in Mughal architecture of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Delhi and mastered the difficult process of mammoth plate paper negatives. Two of his dense but mezzotint-like prints, including one from his 1858 portfolio Agra and its vicinity are proudly displayed in several art galleries across the world.