Nineteenth-Century Photography, Indian Minorities and The Question of a Secular Future

Sushma Griffin2

2Art History – School of Communication and Arts, University of Queensland, , Australia

In raising the question of the overlooked and under-theorised minority presence in the history of India’s cultural modernity, specifically in relation to the nineteenth-century photography of the Indian built landscape, this paper seeks to recover the connection between the photographic practice of minority photographers and the emergence of modern Indigenous conceptions of place. With particular reference to Shia photographer Darogha Abbas Ali (active 1860-1880s) and Jain photographer Lala Deen Dayal (1844-1910), I argue that the post-1857 Rebellion built environment of Lucknow and Dilawara emerges through their visualisations that privilege indigenous philosophies of vision, time, and space over British aesthetics of landscape. I draw upon art historian Jae Emerling’s proposition of the “transmissibility” of images that opens up the aesthetic and historiographic force of a work of art across time to explore the multiple temporalities, and engagements with space, signified within Deen Dayal and Abbas Ali’s images. And in doing so, I advance the idea of a pluralist nascent Indian modernity that in turn re-claims the critical possibility of a secular future for the Indian nation in opposition to the present condition of Hindutva nationalism.


Sushma Griffin is a doctoral candidate in Art History – School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland. Her thesis examines the interface between Indian philosophies of vision, time, and space and nineteenth-century British aesthetics of landscape, specifically photography of the Indian built environment that emerged in the wake of the 1857 Indian Uprising.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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