Photograpy, India, Portraits, Anglo Indians, Family and me

Wall Street Journal-India

People of India Photographed Over 150 Years by Aditi Malhotra Wall Street Journal India

When British photographer Bertrum Edwin Ebenezer Scott disembarked from the train in Karachi in the days following the partition of India and Pakistan, he took a picture that would mark the end of nearly 150 years spent by six generations of his family in the subcontinent.

‘The Last Breakfast in Karachi,’ taken before Mr. Scott boarded a ship in the port city of newly created Pakistan and set sail for England, is part of a collection of images he shot in India that are now on display at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry in the United Kingdom.

Bert Scott

“The People of India,” also includes photographs taken by Mr. Scott’s grandson, Jason Scott Tilley, who put together the exhibition that spans more than a century of India’s history.

Mr. Scott grew up in southern Indian city of Bangalore with his grandparents – Edwin Ebenezer Scott and Emily Good Andre — before India gained independence from the British. His grandfather was the Assistant Commissioner of Salt for southern India. 

Mr. Scott became a press photographer for The Times of India before moving to head the Indian Army’s photography unit stationed in Burma during the Second World War.

His work forms a valuable photographic account of India in the pre-independence era but many of his photographs have remained in his grandson’s closet until now.

About 40 of Mr. Scott’s photographs are currently on display combined with more than 50 portraits of Indians taken in India by his grandson between 1999 and 2009.

This photograph below, was taken by Mr. Scott in 1937, while Mahatma Gandhi, known as the father of independent India, walked on Juhu beach in Bombay, now Mumbai.

Bert Scott

The image below is of a farewell ceremony held in New Delhi for Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India who was made the first Governor General of the independent country before leaving on Aug. 15, 1947, India’s independence day.

Bert Scott

This 1934 photograph is described by Mr. Scott Tilley as the ‘Selfie of the 1930s’, and shows his grandfather standing on the rooftop of the building belonging to The Times of India office in Bombay.

Bert Scott

Mr. Scott Tilley first came to India in 1999 accompanying his grandfather whom he says “was desperate to go back to the country he loved.” In the photograph below of the Indian Army’s photo team in Burma, Mr. Scott is on the far left.

Bert Scott

Mr. Scott Tilley says his photographs, divided by almost 50 years from his grandfather’s pictures of the country, reflect a “new India”.

When he shot his first set of portraits while traveling with grandfather in the late 1990s, Mr. Scott Tilley said he “could see tragedy on the corner of every street” reminiscent of the stories of partition narrated to him by his grandparents.

He took this photograph of a man in a safari suit and a helmet paddling at the beach in Chennai in 2003. When asked why he was wearing a helmet at the beach, Mr. Scott Tilley says he remembers the man raising his visor and responding simply, “Because I came here on my motor-cycle.”

Jason Scott Tilley

A third set of photographs in the exhibition come from a photographic project also called “The People of India” put together by the Library of Birmingham and spanning 1868 to 1875. The project was the outcome of the then “British government’s desire to create a visual record of ‘typical’ physical attributes and characteristics of Indian people to help them understand the population of the newly-acquired colony,” said Mr. Scott Tilley.

This photograph from the collection is of a man from the Dooranee (Durrani) empire, which covered Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indian administered Kashmir, as they exist today. It was taken in Kabul, now in Afghanistan. In a description accompanying the photograph, the subject is described as having curly hair and “a thickly quilted cap with a muslin turban folded around it.”

This is described as “characteristic of the lower orders of Dooranees.” Strict followers of the Sunni Muslim religion, they identified as “brave, frank and often hospitable.”

The Library of Birmingham

The photograph below is of a member of a wedding band and was taken by Mr. Scott Tilley in the winter of 2004 in Delhi’s Paharganj area. “What you can’t tell by the photograph is that behind me there are about twenty of his band members yelling at him to straighten himself up and stand to attention,” he wrote in a blogpost about the portrait.

Jason Scott Tilley

Mr. Scott Tilley calls this one, below, “The Buffalow Girl.” He took it in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

Jason Scott Tilley

People of India Exhibition ‘video’ of our opening night.

A Poem by David Hurt; be as spirited and fun loving as me

You look at me,
You pretend not to look at me,
You wonder how I am the way I am.

You never stop to ask,
You never stop to know.
You just walk
As if walking away is a duty
And a moral principle right
And stopping in a sin.

I am disabled,
But I am not invisible,
I am an inquisitive being,
I am a thinker,
I am an inventor,
A musician,
A singer,
A composer,
A poet,
A dancer,
An artist.

I have strength,
And a sense of humour
Which makes my children proud
That I am alive.

They never complain,
They hug and kiss me
And thank me for their food,
Their beds
And home.

I have a smile
That melts my mother’s heart.

I am never alone.

So please stop,
Talk to me,
Ask me,
Know me,
I might be able to help.
So you can smile,
So you can be yourself,
So you can be determined,
So you can be strong,
So you will never be alone…

So you can be content with life,
So you can be at peace
And be as spirited
And fun loving as me


Palolem beach South Goa 2004

The Poem was written by David Hurt, invigilator from The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, UK. It is Davids  response to my People of India exhibition.

Canvas Rites; a Poem by David Hurt

Canvases of ritual and worship,
Their bodies and faces alive
With colour

And whisks of jovial pleasure
Devoted to their deities,

Caught by the beauty of light

Married with chemistry

And the mastery of a skilled eye.

Portrait from Udaipur Rajasthan 2003

This poem was inspired by my People of India photographic exhibition at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum Coventry. Thank you, David Hurt.


BBC Midlands Today with Satnam Rana

The marketing of The People of India exhibition an my body of work The Beautiful people marches forward. Many many thanks to Satnam Rana and the team from Midlands Today for their professionalism and patience. Thank you to Stephanie Brown John Wilson and the team at The Hebert. Please click on the ‘Face Book’  link below this screen gab.


Exhibition talk with Coventry University photography students

Artist Jason Scott Tilley discusses his body of work “People of India”

Artist Jason Scott Tilley, who has been artist in residence at Coventry University, discusses his body of work “The people of India” currently showing at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry.

Cited influences: Edward Curtis, Irving Penn & August Sander

Suggested reading: Pinney C. (1997) Camera Indica, Chicago

Embers; a poem by David Hurt


Tired eyes,

searching for sustenance and shelter,

searching for warmth from generous passers by,

which are few and far between.

Warmth, from blanket or shawl,

or the flicker of tinder’s of a golden flame.

Distant eyes, searching for meaning,

hope, a life beyond a world seemed lost,

a life where hardship isn’t a burden, but rewarded,

full of possibilities and prosperity.

Happy eyes; A glow with dreams untouchable,

but dreams that fulfil a moment To make them smile…

Genuinely moved that David from The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum wrote this poem in response to my People of India exhibition. Thank you David. I have chosen this portrait taken in Kolkata to accompany it.

People of India exhibition The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum Coventry

People of India exhibition1LRFinally after all of this time and hard work by so many people my exhibition is up at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. I’d love to say it was all my work but that would not be true. Thank you Pete James Curator of photographs at The Library of Birmingham and to the team at the Hebert with a huge thanks to Curator Rosie Addenbrooke.

Poeple of India exhibition 2014LR

Not The End!



Grandpas tour to photograph in Simla 1947

To add a little more to Grandpa’s story I enclose a letter written to me from Derek Boddington who I have now had the pleasure of speaking with.

Mountbatten Shimla tour copy

Hi Jason,

Many thanks for the photo and for the link.

The photo was taken immediately after the Trooping of the Colour and Centenary parade on 7th October 1947. Customarily at the end of every ceremonial parade, members of the school Staff are introduced to the Presiding Officer and members of his party. It’s a nice picture and of course, I recognize everyone in it. I’m sure my usual visitors and old school friends will be pleased to see it. Your Grandpa’s account of the occasion is accurate and corresponds with mine, (see my earlier email) – except that he has confused the Lovedale school title with ours,  (probably because, coming from the south of India he would have been more familiar with Lovedale.  Sanawar was founded during Lawrence’s lifetime, whereas Lovedale and Ghora Gali were established as memorial schools, after his death in Lucknow, in 1857).

Have you checked out the image numbers I sent you? I’m fairly certain they are all PR photos, but I no longer have access to the prints so I can’t say who took them. They were all 1947, so it has to be either Sharma or your Grandad. I’m also pretty certain that your Grandpa accompanied the CGS General Sir Arthur Smith on his visit to Sanawar for Founder’s Day in 1946. I will look through my files to see what else I can find.

Thanks too for the links to your blog, all of which I found most interesting.  My mother’s folk are also from the south, (Malabar) and our Eurasian link is Anglo-Indian and Indo-Dutch, (Confusing)!  I have been researching my family history since 1999 and also have a genealogy site with the same hosts, (Rootsweb).  It is down for maintenance just now, but I’ll let you know when it’s up again. You’d be very welcome to visit.

Best wishes,


The Lawrence Military Academy at partition (Simla)

I have been spending quite some time recently, reengaging with my Grandpa Bert Scott’s work. I’ve been editing, sequencing, trying my best alongside  curator Rosie Addenbrooke from The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum Coventry chose the photographs that tell the story of my family’s life in India on the run up to partition and beyond.

There is one image I am very familiar with, it’s a group shot taken in late August in Simla just after partition 1947 which features Earl and Lady Mountbatten at the closing of The Lawrence Royal Military School Sanawar high in the Simla hills prior to the handing over to the Indian school services.

Group with Mountbattens1947partition


As a matter of cause I googled some of the details Grandpa had written on the back of the print which led me to a rather interesting blog about the schools history collated in photographs by Derek Boddington.

What amazed me is that within the many pages of images was a copy of one of my Grandpas photographs, now it was in-correctly accredited to Mr Sharma courtesy of a Mr Ron Bailey. I have no idea who Mr Sharma is at this stage or Mr Ron Bailey but what really excites me is that there are obviously other copies of my Grandpa’s photographs still out there and yet to be found.

Exciting times.


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