Miss Collins (?) in Calcutta by F.W. Baker

This early carte-de-visite from India doesn’t have the young woman’s name on it, but it was listed for sale on eBay along with a few other photos from the same family, one of which had “Miss Collins” written on the back.  The same young woman is in that photo, along with several young adults who may have been her siblings.  I had hoped to buy the other photos as well as this one, but the bidding on those went too high.

The CDV was made by F.W. Baker, who operated his studio in Calcutta (Kolkata) from 1857 until 1869.  In census records for Calcutta, I found a Frederick Worgan Baker, but I couldn’t confirm that he was a photographer.

Miss Collins (maybe) in Calcutta 3c

In the next image, which I saved from eBay, you can see the same young woman seated on the floor.  This CDV was also made at Baker’s studio.  As I mentioned above, “Miss Collins” is written on the back:

Miss Collins (maybe) in Calcutta 4b
Source: eBay
Miss Collins (maybe) in Calcutta 5
Source: eBay

I think the woman seated at the center of the group above is also in the image below:

Miss Collins or relatives (maybe) in Calcutta 1b
Carte-de-visite by Schwarzschild & Co., Calcutta. Source: eBay.

 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know something about this family?

Miss Collins (maybe) in Calcutta 2f

 

 

36 thoughts on “Miss Collins (?) in Calcutta by F.W. Baker

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  1. Well,they’re all Indian by the look of them – apart from the man in the lower photo. Presumably what was (and unfortunately still is) regarded as a high-caste family or they’d not have been able to afford to pay a studio photographer. I find the backdrop fascinating – particularly with the mosaic-pillar studio prop.

    My suspicion is that ‘Miss Collins’ isn’t in any of the photos – but it was sent to her.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very intriguing! I wonder if the young woman in the first photo was possibly leaving the country and wanted photos of her family to take with her.
    The pedestal is so strange. It almost appears to be something from the future that somehow found its way into this photo. Dr Who might have the answer 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Now that I’ve learned about Baker, I’d say he’s well-known, although I didn’t know anything about him when I was bidding on these. Early photos from India are highly collectible, but some subjects are rarer or more sought-after than others. Here’s an album of 30 cartes-de-visite by Baker, with some more information about him. It’s being sold by a rare book dealer at a price of £2950.00. (https://www.pbfa.org/books/30-extremely-scarce-albumen-carte-de-visite-photographs-by-renowned-fw-baker-calcutta-studio-depicting-indigenous-trades-and-social-classes-in-bengal)

      I honestly can’t tell if the family above is all-Indian or Anglo-Indian. I wish we knew if their name was Collins or not!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Interesting-thanks Brad! I know almost nothing about the history of India when it was a colony of Great Britain. My husband collects portrait photos by famous 19th century photographers, mostly French. He hasn’t hasn’t discovered Mr. Baker yet!

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the woman in the second-to-last photo is wearing a hoop skirt. It can be hard to tell! Photos of pregnant women are very rare from the 1800s. I’ve seen a few that were fairly obvious, but there must have been some sort of taboo against it. I have one cabinet card that I’m pretty sure contains a pregnant woman (USA). I should post it and see if readers agree.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Anglo-Indian family of a man who was himself a European, presumably British. All of them assimilated to the Victorian way of being. You wonder what their fates were given the rampant racism of the times. Never ceasing, of course.

    So interesting! Sarah

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To me the man looks more Indian than British, but it’s impossible to be sure. The young woman in the first photo is dignified and beautiful, even regal. Yet a dissonance is created by the European clothing and studio props. The world has always been complicated and it always will be. Thank you, Sarah. Brad

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Baker was an important early documenter of life in India, yet he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, and he’s referred to everywhere as F.W., as though no one ever tried to find out his name. It just goes to show that there’s plenty of room for research in the field of historical photography. Thanks, Sherri!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My thought was similar to Val’s. i.e. that ‘Miss Collins’ was the recipient of the photo, and that she maybe was a governess or a teacher, and that one of her former pupils now sends the photographs to her. The clothes are clearly what people in Britain would have worn at the time. Also the hairstyles, reminded me of George Eliot.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Wow. You can read so much into these pictures. The one constant for me is that they were definitely a family of means. Also, from their change of attire, the pictures were apparently taken at different times, meaning they employed the photographer on more then one occasion. In the picture of the couple, the man looks British to me. Perhaps he is the Collins since the genus of the Collins surname is Britain and Ireland. Could be that the young lady really is Miss Collins.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s always fun to try to figure out what a photo can tell us. I was really curious to hear readers’ impressions of this one. The differences of opinion are very interesting. My gut feeling is that the Collins name probably wasn’t theirs, but it certainly could have been if the man was British or Anglo-Indian. Maybe the person who bought the photos of the group and the couple knows who they are. It would be very cool if that person found this post and joined the conversation!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. This group is the hardest to interpret of any I’ve seen you post. I’m convinced the man in the group photo is Indian or mixed race, but the man and woman are (to my eye) clearly British. From what I know of India, I can’t imagine that the women of a family would be photographed in such ways: sitting on the floor, in mixed company, and so on. Whatever else can be deduced, my guess is that this crew is living the high life, ex-pat style: perhaps a diplomatic or other posting to India had allowed them to establish themselves there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Do you subscribe to Luminous Lint? I just went over there, and found this information about Baker. I noticed the line at the bottom of the entry that says “Visual indexes for this photographer are available for subscribers.” Well, I bit. You can subscribe for $8 for one month — I’ll see what I can find about this fellow.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Hi Linda, I found the same page at Luminous Lint that you did, but I’ve never subscribed. Good for you! I figure my Ancestry subscription should be enough, but who knows. Let me know what you think of the service. Your interpretation of the photos is very interesting! If this family is Indian, they’re certainly comfortable with Western styles and manners.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. The young woman is very beautiful. I’m glad that you included the other two photos for reference. They’re a wonderful addition to her story. I’m not sure why exactly but the group portrait reminds me of something literary such as Little Women. I know that doesn’t have any bearing on the truth of this family but it’s one of those things that come to mind. I’m intrigued as well by the statuette by her side. I wonder at what a photographer chooses to be part of his photographs, or did he perhaps let her choose something from his collection that was to her liking… The details you are able to learn from your research amaze me every time. Well done Brad! 😊🌷

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Suzanne! I know exactly what you mean about the group. The way they’re posed, intentionally but almost casually, in a variety of positions, looking in different directions. It conveys an intimacy between them which wouldn’t be there if they were all simply facing the camera. You don’t see these sorts of poses in modern portraits. I wonder why not?

      I imagine she chose the statuette from Baker’s inventory. He may have suggested it to balance the curtain on the other side. Sometimes I find such props artificial, but I like this one. The portrait would be fine without it but I think it’s a nice addition.

      Liked by 2 people

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