The First Indonesian Photographer

Kassian Cephas
Kassian Cephas

Outside of a small circle of historians interested in Indonesian culture, Kassian Cephas is scarcely known. A court photographer for Java’s Yogyakarta Sultanate in Java during the late 19th century, Kassian Cephas was Indonesia’s first professional photographer.

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Born in 1845 during Dutch colonial rule, Cephas was trained by a Dutchman at the request of Sultan Hamengkubuwana VI. (According to oral tradition, his father was Dutch and his mother Indonesian). By the early 1870’s, Cephas was appointed as court painter and photographer. His responsibilities were to take portraits of the royal family.

Borobudur temple panels
Borobudur temple panels

Recognizing his skills, the Dutch Archaeological Union commissioned Cephas to photograph Indonesia’s iconic buildings and ancient monuments for posterity.

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After the hidden base of the Borobudur temple complex was discovered in 1885, Cephas was requested to record the hidden panels with his camera. To expedite the documentation, the base was briefly uncovered in 1890, and then covered again in 1891.

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In recognition of his photographic contribution to archeology, Cephas was appointed as an “extraordinary member” of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences following the completion of the Borobudur project. Subsequently, he was also made a member of the Royal Institute in recognition of his work with for the Dutch Archaeological Union.

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Along with his architectural photography, Cephas continued working as a court photographer. In 1896 he photographed a visit to Yogyakarta by Thailand’s King Chulalongkorm. Later, in 1899 he documented the four-year commemoration of the accession of Hamengkunegars III to the throne as Crown Prince of the Yogyakarta Sultanate.

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Cephas retired when he reached 60 years of age, and passed away seven years later in 1912 due to illness.

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Although he was an accomplished court photographer and architectural photographer, Cephas is mainly celebrated in Indonesia today as the first Indonesian to become a professional photographer.

 

Lala Deen Dayal – The Doyen of Indian Photographers

Famous indian photographer - Lala Deen Dayal
Famous indian photographer – Lala Deen Dayal

Born in 1844 at Sardhana in Meerut in the United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh today), Lala Deen Dayal was a successful engineer in Indore, where he was Head Estimator & Draughtsman with the Public Works Department. It was here that he was introduced to photography. His skill with the new medium was noticed by ruler of Indore, Maharaja Tukoji II. In 1875, the Mahajara became his patron, and encouraged him to set up his first studio. Shortly after establishing his studio, Dayal photographed the royal visit of the Prince of Wales (who became King George V), greatly enhancing his reputation.

Tiger Hunter - by Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal
Tiger Hunter – by Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal

This success was followed by a string of appointments over the years that allowed Dayal to capture a unique photographic record of Indian aristocratic life not easily accessed by his British counterparts.

Maharaja of Bijawar
Maharaja of Bijawar – by Indian photographer Lala Dayal Deen

This portrait taken in 1882, depicting the Maharaja of Bijawar sitting cross-legged, surrounded by servants, is a example of Dayal’s portrait work at the time.

In 1886, Dayal was appointed as the court photographer to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad (an Islamic dynasty in India). Remaining in the Nizim’s service until his death, Dayal captured intimate portraits of the royal family, opulent palace interiors, and the pageantry of the times. In appreciation of his work and dedication, the Nizam bestowed on him the honorific title of “Raja”

Jain temples at Sonagiri near Dattia
Jain temples at Sonagiri near Dattia – as photographed by Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal

Besides the Nizam, Dayal photographed various British dignitaries throughout his career. In 1887, he had the unique honor of being appointed as “Photographer to Her Majesty and Queen” by Queen Victoria. Dayal also received numerous awards in exhibitions in India and abroad, notably at the World Colombian Commission in 1893 in USA.

Dayal captured a wealth of images of both the British and indian ruling classes
Dayal captured a wealth of images of both the British and indian ruling classes

In 1896 he expanded his business and opened the largest photography studio in Bombay, which was patronized by both Indians as well as the British.

Photos of India by Lala Deen Dayal
Historic photos of India by Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal

Dayal photographed on a wider scale than any European photographer of the time, as he moved with ease between the Indian and English worlds. His albums of India views and ancient monuments became very popular and were bought as keepsakes and gifts by both the British and Indian aristocracy.

It was not only in his portraitures and depictions of the lives of the ruling classes that makes Dayal’s work memorable. He also captured the rich culture and tradition of India’s architectural heritage – its palaces, temples, monuments, and forts.

Dayal passed away on 5th July 1905, and his work was carried on by his sons. His contribution to Indian photography has earned him the title of “Doyen of Indian photography”. Lala Deen Dayal was the first Indian photographer to earn international renown for his pioneering work in the field of photography in the subcontinent.

Photography’s Beginnings in India

Dancing girls from Madras taken by Nicholas & Curths
Indian dancing girls from Madras taken by Nicholas & Curths in 1870

Photography came to India around 1840, just as photography was replacing painting as the new mode of recording the world.

In the early years, almost all the photos taken in India were linked to the British colonial regime – either by subject, or by photographer. The photographers mainly were English civil servants in the colonial government, or employees of the British East India Company (colloquially known as ‘John Company’). Some were employed specifically to take photographs, while others were amateurs.

Photography was also considered by the East India Company to be the most accurate and economical means of recording architectural and archaeological monuments for official records. The company actively encouraged the employees to photograph, and record archaeological sites.

Although they were a tiny minority of the population, it was the English in India who also first formed the major market for photography in India. Many individual bought photographs as a visual record of their experiences in India, which at the end of their tour of duty they would take back to their home country to show their family and friends.

No definitive record of when the first photograph was taken in India exists, but it’s generally agreed that the first commercial photograph taken in India dates from 1844.

The first photographic societies of India were found in 1854 in Bombay and 1857 in Bengal and Madras.

Native Nautch at Delhi (or Shalimar?), 1864 by Samuel Bourne
Native Nautch in Delhi, India, 1864 by Samuel Bourne

Indians were also quick to learn how to take photos. The first to learn were probably those employed by European photographers as assistants. These Indian photographers began by taking photos for India’s upper classes. There was a growing demand among wealthy Indians for photos, and local studios were soon set up to meet this demand.

The first Indian photographer whose name is recorded is Nawab Ahmed Ali Khan of Lucknow. However, it’s not exactly clear when he started taking photos. Estimates range between 1845 and 1850. The earliest existing photo taken by Khan is dated 1855

By 1855, a course in photography had been established at the Madras School of Industrial Art to teach photography to Indian students.

Photo by Dr. Narain Dajee
Photo by Dr. Narain Dajee

The quick growth of photography amongst Indians can be seen by inclusion of 30 photographs by Dr Narain Dajee (a professional photographer, and a council member of the Bombay Photographic Society) in the 1857 exhibition by the Photographic Society of Bengal. Dajee’s photos differed from his British counterparts in that they included images of fakirs, snake charmers, musicians, soldiers and other Indians.

As Indian photographers began establishing successful studios, most of them made the majority of their money through commissions from affluent Indian families. However, a few Indian photographers also began selling their work to both the aristocratic families of India as well as to the British civil servants serving the British Raj. Lala Deen Dayal (also known as Raja Deen Dayal) was one of the most successful*.

*Stay tuned… a post on Lala Deen Dayal will be coming soon!

The First Photo Ever Created By A Japanese Photographer

Shimazu Nariakira by Japanese photographer Ichiki Shiroø
Shimazu Nariakira by Japanese photographer Ichiki Shiroø – earliest existing photo taken by Japanese photographer

In 1848, Ueno Shunnojo-Tsunetari (a Japanese trader based in Nagasaki) imported Japan’s first daguerreotype camera from Holland. The following year, the camera was obtained by Shimazu Nariakira, a Japanese feudal lord (daimyo) who ruled the Satsuma Domain from 1851 until his demise in 1958. Shimazu was renowned as an intelligent and wise lord, and noted for his great interest in all forms of Western technology.

Having obtained the camera, the daimyo ordered his retainers to study it and produce working photographs. One of these retainers was Ichiki Shirō (市来 四郎). Ichiki had previously excelled in the study of gunpowder production, which involved an understanding of chemistry. Due to this background, Shimazu believed Ichiki’s background would suit him for the challenge of mastering the creation of daguerreotypes – which entailed use of chemical treatments to develop the final image.

Alexander S. Wolcott's daguerreotype camera
Alexander S. Wolcott’s daguerreotype camera (above) and a cross section diagram of the camera (below). Image scanned from the book “Photography and the American Scene: A Social History, 1839-1889” by Robert Taft, published by Macmillan Company, 1938.

Due to his complete lack of formal training in photography and in how to use the camera, it was many years before Ichiki produced a quality photograph. To the daimyo’s delight, on September 17, 1857, Ichiki succeeded in creating a portrait of Shimazu dressed in formal attire. Ichiki recorded his struggles, and eventual triumph in mastering the camera, in his memoirs which he compiled in 1884.

After Shimazu’s death in 1958, the Terukuni Shrine (also referred to as Shōkoku Shrine) was built in Kagoshima as a memorial to the late daimyo. He was enshrined there in 1863, and the photograph was placed there as an object of worship. However, it later went missing in the 1800s.

After being lost for a century, the daguerreotype was discovered in 1975 a warehouse. Recognized as the oldest daguerreotype in existence that was created by a Japanese photographer, the photo was designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government in 1999.