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HomeContents > People > Photographers > A. Williamson

Active:  India

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Approved biography for A. Williamson
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

In 1857 the Calcutta Volunteer Infantry Guards, commanded to form a square to fend off a cavalry charge, must have been surprised when they learned this was not for bloodletting, but rather for the purpose of a photograph to be taken by a Mr. Williamson. A merchant in Calcutta, Williamson contributed thirty prints from both calotype and collodion negatives to the 1857 Photographic Society of Bengal exhibition. In 1858 Williamson photographed the reading of the royal proclamation that ended the rule of the East India Company. In 1859 Williamson exhibited “a number of his very beautiful landscape views, amongst which was a very fine panorama of Calcutta.” These were to be the last of his Indian views, for Williamson “announced that as he was about to go to England, his camera and lenses were for sale.” No trace of him has been found after that. 
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

Amateur, India
Active in Calcutta. Showed over 30 prints from calotype and collodion negatives at the Photographic Society of Bengal Exhibition of 1857.
In November 1857 he photographed the Calcutta Guards:
‘At the parade yesterday morning of the Calcutta Volunteer Infantry Guards, on their forming square to receive the charge of the Cavalry, Major Davis said, ‘Gentlemen, you are now to be photographed, not charged’; and we believe Mr Williamson, a merchant of this city, who having previously arranged everything, took off a photographic view of the Guards while they were in the position above described.
‘The Guards remained particularly steady while the Lens was under operation, and we understand, that a very good impression has been obtained of the very interesting scene which had been at the time presented.’[1]
He also photographed the reading of the royal proclamation which ended East India Company rule on 1 November 1858, three images of the event being exhibited a couple of days later:
‘two views reporting with much clearness the Royal Proclamation being read on the steps of Government House [taken by Josiah Rowe, and] a full-sized view (12x15) of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, in which some of the persons on the steps could be easily recognized’, by Williamson.[2]
His work in the photographic exhibition of August 1858 also received favourable comment:
‘These amateur photographs which form quite a feature in the Exhibition, have also their various histories enhancing their general value, or their local or personal interest. One of them fixes more durably a very recent scene which has been enacted in Calcutta, the reception of the Naval Brigade. That ceremonial was not a Roman Triumph; but it was a modest British welcome, publicly given to youths who had nobly rendered public service, - and we should not wonder if many desired to possess this photograph as a commemoration and relic of the occasion. It cannot be taken now.’[3]
At meeting of the Bengal Photographic Society of 19 January 1859,
‘Mr Williamson exhibited a number of his very beautiful landscape views, amongst which was a very fine panorama of Calcutta. Mr Williamson announced that as he was about to go to England, his camera and lenses were for sale.’[4]
His photographs won a medal at the 1859 Madras Photographic Society Exhibition:
‘Mr A. Williamson of Calcutta exhibits 26 pictures, 18 being views in the neighbourhood of the City of Palaces, and interesting groups of native figures, the remainder being single portraits. The former are surpassed by nothing in the Exhibition either as regards manipulation or printing; indeed they might bear comparison with the best European photographs of the day. The tone of these prints is truly admirable, and they almost rival even the finest engravings. This artist especially excels in the delineation of village scenes. Those of Kidderpore and Hourah indeed leave nothing to be desired. The accurate and equal focussing of the whole of his pictures up to the very margin, and the admirable distinctness with which the most minute objects are portrayed, speak well for the excellent quality of his lens, and for the process (collodion) by which these exquisite photographs have been produced. They certainly surpass in this respect any wax-paper prints we have ever seen. The Silver Medal for landscapes open to all photographers has been awarded to this collection.’[5]

  1. Λ Bengal Hurkaru, 12 November 1857. 
  2. Λ The Englishman, 9 November 1858. 
  3. Λ Bengal Hurkaru, 17 August, 1858. 
  4. Λ The Englishman, 22 January, 1859. 
  5. Λ Madras Journal of Literature and Science, no.9, new series, Apr-Sep 1859, pp.180-1. 

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