Two photographs of Gangotri, one taken by Samuel Bourne in the mid 1800’s and the other taken in 2005 from nearly the same location, almost 150 years apart.
Notice how much the Gangroti Glacier has shrunk in volume; for more on that see the note below.
The false-color image above shows the Gangotri Glacier, situated in the Uttarkashi District of Garhwal Himalaya. Currently 30.2 km long and between 0.5 and 2.5 km wide, Gangotri glacier is one of the largest in the Himalaya. Gangotri has been receding since 1780, although studies show its retreat quickened after 1971. (Please note that the blue contour lines drawn here to show the recession of the glacier’s terminus over time are approximate.) Over the last 25 years, Gangotri glacier has retreated more than 850 meters, with a recession of 76 meters from 1996 to 1999 alone. (Source: NASA)
Samuel Bourne, photographer (1834-1912)
Samuel Bourne, a professional photographer from Nottingham lived and worked in India from 1862 to 1869 . He was an outstanding landscape worker of his time. He also made a number of expeditions, starting with a ten-week tour in the Himalayas, followed by other much longer ones. It is said that on one of his journeys he employed as many as fifty servants to carry the vast array of equipment, liquids and personal effects for the tour.
Writing in the British Journal of Photography, 1864, he recorded the pain and pleasure of his work: “With scenery like this it is very difficult to deal with the camera: it is altogether too gigantic and stupendous to be brought within the limits imposed on photography….”
“My anxiety to get views of some of these fine combinations of rocks and water often induced me to leave he regular track, and put myself and my instruments innthe greatest danger by attempting an abrupt descent to some spot below….to command a fine picture. Though this was only accomplished with immense difficulty, sundry bruises, and great personal fatigue under a scorching sun, I was in every instance rewarded, always returning with pictures which the more sontented gazer from above would scarcely believe obtainable. But this toiling is almost too much for me, and, I must confess, it at the time greatly outweighed the pleasure.” In a later article he writes of the power of photography to change the way we look at things: “…it teaches the mind to see the beauty and power of such scenes as these… For my own part, I may say that before I commenced photography I did not see half the beauties in nature that I do now, and the glory and power of a precious landscape has often passed before me and left but a feeble impression on my untutored mind; but it will never be so again.” He must have been a pretty hard task-master! In the British Journal of Photography (October 1866) he describes his reaction on discovering that there had been several loads abandoned by coolies: “This was getting serious, and I viewed vengeance against the rascals who had placed me in this difficulty…. Taking a stout stick in my hand I set out in search of them… I walked in… (one of the houses) …and soon discovered my firneds hiding beneath a charpoy or bed, and dragging them forth made them feel the “quality” of my stock, amid … cries and lamentations….”
Bourne made well over three thousand negatives during his travels in the East. His work may be seen at the India Record Office, London, and at the Royal Photographic Society, Bath England.
More of Samuel Bourne’s photographs can be viewed on the BBC’s website and if you are interested in purchasing a book of his photographs Photographic Journeys in the Himalayas 1863 – 1866 by Samuel Bourne Compiled & edited by Hugh Rayner