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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Josiah Rowe

Dates:  1809 - 1874, 7 October
Died:  India, Calcutta
Active:  India
 
  

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Josiah Rowe
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
When Josiah Rowe displayed some of his early works at an 1856 meeting of the Photographic Society of Bengal, they were cited in the society’s Journal as “creditable specimens of the rare skill of the oldest photographer in Calcutta.” Rowe moved to India sometime before 1839 and began making daguerreotypes in the 1840s. In the 1856 exhibition of the Photographic Society of Madras he showed, as noted by the Indian Journal of Art, Science and Manufacture, five “calotype views of different parts of Calcutta, all of them clearly focused, well printed and of a good tone.” Rowe might have been darkly amused at the article’s criticism that he placed his horizon too high in these photographs — “the lines of perspective in consequence too sudden and angular in the foreground to be pleasing” — for that same year he had been appointed professor of drawing and surveying at Presidency College, Calcutta. Surprisingly, he continued to employ the daguerreotype throughout the 1850s alongside his paper and collodion work, including panoramas and views of shipping. Rowe was elected to the committee of the Photographic Society of Bengal in 1862. 
  
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. 
  
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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

 
Amateur, India
Although not listed in directories before 1839, Rowe was resident in Calcutta from at least 1835, on 13 March of which year he married Eliza Sherriff in St Paul’s, Calcutta, his profession being given as ‘builder and surveyor’;[1] Surveyor, Entally, with firm of Sheriff and Co., 1839 (Scott’s almanac); Member of Conservancy Committee, Calcutta, 1843 (Scott); Surveyor, Sheriff and Co., and to Conservancy Committee, residence at 26 Elliott Road, 1849 (Scott); Surveyor and Drawing Master, Hindu College, and Superintendent of Roads, Calcutta, 1852 (Scott); Surveyor to Conservancy Department, Professor of Drawing and Surveying, Presidency College, 1856-66;[2] Surveyor to Municipal Commissioners and Professor of Drawing, residence 34 Elliott Road, 1860, 1863 (Thackers); Surveyor and Assessor for J.P.s, residence at 39 Elliott Road, 1870-74 (Thackers). Died of ascitis and buried in the Dissenters’ Section of the Circular Road Cemetery, Calcutta.[3] His will bequeathes all his estate to his wife Eliza.[4]
 
Daguerreotypes, ‘many of them several years old’, shown to meeting of the Photographic Society of Bengal at meeting of 26.9.1856: ‘all were admired as faithful likenesses, and creditable specimens of the rare skill of the oldest photographer in Calcutta’.[5]
 
Letter from Rowe with suggestions for tin for preserving photographic papers read out at meeting of 26 Nov 1856.[6]
 
A number of Rowe’s photographs were also sent to the 1856 exhibition of the Madras Photographic Society, where they received a generally enthusiastic response:
‘J. Rowe, Esq., contributes five calotype views views of different parts of Calcutta, all of them clearly focused, well printed and of a good tone; four of these however are very unartistic in subject being views taken from the tops of houses with the line of the horizon about a quarter from the top of the picture and the lines of perspective in consequence too sudden and angular in the foreground to be pleasing. As a general rule applicable to sketching from nature as well as selecting points of view for Photographs, it should always be borne in mind that objects look insignificant when looked down upon, and that the way to give importance to them is to let them rise above the horizon. The most pleasing height for the horizon is one-third or one-fouth from the bottom of the picture and when a person is standing, objects that come nearer than 40 or 50 feet should not be sketched, and when sitting, the lower edge of the picture should not take in anything nearer than 30 feet; or to put it more forcibly, your own knees or toes must never form the foreground of a picture when you sit down to sketch, and you can’t introduce a figure that is standing so close to you that you require to turn up the lower edge of your paper to put in the legs. These remarks are not intended to be directed against Mr. Rowe’s Photographs, whch are excellent specimens of manipulation, but they are intended as suggestions for Photographers and Sketchers who, in their first attempts, almost invariably place the horizon too high. No. 107, view of the gates of Government House in Calcutta, by the same contributor. This is a clear and well focused calotype, taken from a picturesque point of view.’[7]
His daguerreotypes were also sent to this exhibition:
‘J. Rowe, Esq., exhibits a number of daguerreotype Views and portraits taken by the same process. The best of these are views of shipping on the river, which are exceedingly clear and sharp. The panoramic views of Calcutta from the top of the Ouchterlony Monument are not pleasing subjects. The Portraits are good, but we do not much approve of this branch of Art. The likeness of Lord Dalhousie is not so good as some of the others.’[8]
Elected to act on council of Photographic Society of Bengal at meeting of 21 Jan 1857.[9]
 
Exhibited five collodion views of Calcutta and 25 daguerreotypes (including a portrait of the Marquis of Dalhousie, Government House, the Esplanade, and a five part panorama of the city) at the Photographic Society of Bengal Exhibition of March 1857:
‘...some daguerreotypes by Mr Rowe, comprising a panoramic view from the top of the Ochterlony Monument. Nothing but a strong magnifying glass could do justice to the minute accuracy and beauty of these pictures’.[10]
At the 24 March 1859 meeting of the Bengal Photographic Society, Rowe showed ‘several remarkably good portraits, one was a particularly successful one of the late Chief Justice.’[11]
 
At the 19 May 1859 meeting of the Bengal Photographic Society, ‘amongst the other photographs exhibited in the course of the evening were some very well executed and faithful portraits by Mr Rowe.’[12] Portrait of Sir Bartle Frere by Rowe used as frontispiece to the Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society.[13] This, in the words of the Introductory Address to this number, ‘does much credit to Mr Rowe, who, with a worthy zeal for the success of the journal, and at no slight amount of trouble, has printed off one for each copy.’ And at the Society’s meeting of 4 February 1862, he ‘exhibited highly interesting collection of portraits, comprising many of India’s notables.’[14] Several of these were shown at the society’s exhibition of that year:
Our old friend, Mr. Rowe, has not contributed many pictures, but in those which he has sent in there is a marked improvement. The portraits of Lady Canning are excellent. Nos. 290 and 299 could not be better; we have already remarked the excellence of (302) the portrait of Lord Canning. There is a good group of the Municipal Commissioners. Mr Rowe’s best picture to our taste is that of the two Yules. This is an admirable portrait composition, very speaking, capitally arranged, good in everything but the hands. The panorama of Calcutta is a fine photograph, but the absence of moving life in so extended a space crowded with houses is felt in looking at this picture.[15]
Showed large portraits to the Bengal Photographic Society in January 1862[16] and portraits of Indian notables in February 1862.
 
Silver medal for series of ten photographs at exhibition of the Bengal Photographic Society of July 1862;[17] also exhibited a portrait of Lord and Lady Canning (later pirated by Hering in London), the municipal commissioners, and a panorama of Calcutta.
 
Elected to committee of the Bengal Photographic Society in February 1862.[18]
 
At the Bengal Photographic Society’s meeting of 24 February 1863, Rowe
‘submitted to the meeting two cartes de visite photographs of Lord and Lady Canning, and he was sure that several of the members would be able to say at a glance by whom the originals had been done. Mr Hering, photographer to the Queen, had the boldness to insert at the bottom of the photographs that the copyright had been secured. These photographs had originally been done by him: they were identically the same as those taken by him, only of a reduced size.’[19]
The Society voted to forward a complaint about this flagrant breach of copyright. The offence was made the greater in that
‘Lord Canning had expressed a wish that the portrait of Lady Canning should not become public.’[20]
 
  
 
  

Footnotes 
  
  1. Λ Ecclesiastical Returns, Bengal Marriages, IOR/N/1/42/f. 12. 
      
  2. Λ Listed as Teacher of Drawing 1860-66 in Presidency College, Calcutta, Centenary Volume 1955 (Alipore, 1956), p. 51, but Thacker’s Directory lists him as such from 1856. 
      
  3. Λ Bengal Burials IOR/N/1/150. f. 199. 
      
  4. Λ Bengal Wills, IOR/L/AG/34/29/119. 
      
  5. Λ Journal of the Photographic Society of Bengal, no. 2, 21 Jan 1857. 
      
  6. Λ Journal of the Photographic Society of Bengal, no. 3, 20 May 1857. 
      
  7. Λ The Indian Journal of Art, Science and Manufacture, 2nd series, vol 1, no 4, 1856, p. 175. 
      
  8. Λ ibid. P. 179. 
      
  9. Λ Journal of the Photographic Society of Bengal. No. 3, 20 May 1857 
      
  10. Λ Society meeting of 21 January 1857, Journal of the Photographic Society of Bengal, no. 3, 20 May 1857. 
      
  11. Λ The Englishman, 31 March 1859. 
      
  12. Λ The Englishman, 28 May 1859. 
      
  13. Λ Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, Vol. 1, no. 1, 1 May 1862. 
      
  14. Λ Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 1 May 1862, p. 8. 
      
  15. Λ Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, vol. 1, no. 2, 1 September 1862, p. 46. 
      
  16. Λ Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 1 May 1862 
      
  17. Λ Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, vol. 1, no. 2, 1 September 1862 
      
  18. Λ Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, vol 1, no. 1, 1 May 1862. 
      
  19. Λ Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, vol. 2, no. 4, April 1863, p. 17. 
      
  20. Λ ibid, p. 18. 
      
 
  

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