See Photos From the World’s Oldest Operating Photo Studio

These vintage shots capture 20th century India in black and white.

In June, India’s Bourne & Shepherd photography studios shut down, buckling under legal, financial, and technological pressures.

Photographers Samuel Bourne and William Howard opened the company in 1863 in Shimla, India, later adding Charles Shepherd to the partnership. By 1865, they had opened a second location in Calcutta, and a Bombay branch popped up in 1875. With a successful flow of portraiture and documentary work, Bourne & Shepherd was considered the oldest running photography studio in the world.

While the studio was thriving in the 1920s, National Geographic photographer Maynard Owen Williams purchased these eight photos that captured India in the early 20th century.

Burning Ghat. This ghat (a set of riverfront steps) on the River Benares in Varanasi was considered a holy site and used for cremation rituals. The photo was taken in 1922. [PHOTOGRAPH BY BOURNE AND SHEPHERD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

Mountain View. The Ganges River snakes through this scenic mountain range in the Indian village of Mokba, seen here in 1921. [PHOTOGRAPH BY BOURNE AND SHEPHERD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

Tea Pickers. Men and women pluck tea leaves in a farm field in India in 1921. [PHOTOGRAPH BY BOURNE AND SHEPHERD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

Family Photos. A Tibetan family poses for a portrait in India’s Darjeeling District. [PHOTOGRAPH BY BOURNE AND SHEPHERD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

Village Dwellings. Men and women sit camped outside their homes in Toda mund, also known as the Toda villages, in Nilgiri Hills, in southwest India, in 1921. [PHOTOGRAPH BY BOURNE AND SHEPHERD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

Book Club. Three Indian book writers congregate around a stack of books and papers in 1921. [PHOTOGRAPH BY BOURNE AND SHEPHERD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

Kashmir Women. Women in traditional Kashmiri garb sit outside on an embroidered carpet. [PHOTOGRAPH BY BOURNE AND SHEPHERD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

River Scene. Trees border the entrance of India’s Dal Canal in Srinagar. [PHOTOGRAPH BY BOURNE AND SHEPHERD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE]

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit