In 1857 the Indian rebellion breaks out. The government in the aftermath of the war had become very aware of the fact that it had not foreseen the insurgency, it had not been aware of the extent of discontent among the Indian people it was ruling over, and so it went about gathering extensive amounts of information on the castes and tribes of South Asia, and as part of this it urged colonial photographers to become visual anthropologists.
Now, the stated motivation for this was scientific enquiry but there were more pragmatic, political factors at stake. Knowledge equalled power, and much colonial anthropology was actually quite concerned with identifying groups of allies and enemies among an Indian population which so recently had, risen in revolt and which now was viewed with deep suspicion by the British.
So many who responded to the call for photographs of so called characteristic specimens of Indian people were amateur practitioners. They were doctors, political officers, members of the military and so forth. Some, such as the author of this album, remain anonymous. This page nicely encapsulates the unevenness of approach within early ethnographic photography. We find some figures standing while others are sitting. Some of these figures are given names, others are not. But despite the diversity of conventions being used here all the figures are loosely arranged under the sign of anthropology.
There’s no standardisation here, and yet by the end of the century there would be quite ridged levels of standardisation in anthropological photography. The use of what was called the Lamprey grid as a backdrop enabled comparisons of size across different images, the Lamprey grid was a black and white grid which one would have your portrait done in front of and this would then enable anthropologists to compare different photographs sourced from different areas and be able to give some level of objective standardisation.