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(ARCHIVE) Vol. Vol. XVIII No. 14, november 1-15, 2008
The German Photographers
of Madras
(By Gabrielle Landwehr)

In 2004, the German writer Wolfram Fleischhauer introduced me to photographs in the Vintage Vignettes collection in Chennai. He had found them in a library while researching for a novel. The pictures raised my curiosity and even more so when I found that the photographers had German names and that many of their prints were also part of a historical photo collection in the Volkerkunde­museum (Ethnology Museum) Heidelberg.

When I wrote to the Museum about the photographs, they referred me to an art historian in Berlin, Dr. Joachim K. Bautze, who is an expert on Indian art and especially photography. I visited him in Berlin and was impressed by his large collection of photographs, postcards and other memorabilia of the photo studio in Madras which was called Wiele & Klein. Dr. Bautze came twice to Chennai to do research on the studio and then curated the exhibition, ‘Colonial India in the Photographies of Wiele & Klein’, that was seen in Chennai during the most recent Madras Week. What we know about Wiele & Klein we owe in a great part to the work of Dr. Bautze.


The Baedeker, a German travel guidebook with a tradition that goes back to 1828, mentions in its 1914 edition on India (Ceylon, Vorderindien, Birma, die Malayische Halbinsel, Siam [und] Java) “Wiehle [sic] & Klein, the most famous late 19th and early 20th Century photographic Studio in the South of India”, and identifies it as German.

In December 1902, the photographer Fred Bremner (1863-1942), who also lived and worked in India from 1882 to 1922, referred to the studio as “a German photographer” (Bremner, Fred: My Forty years in India; Bath: Pagoda Tree Press, 2007, p.27f; first edition: Banff and Turiff 1940).

E.F.H. Wiele (we don’t know what the initials stand for) has been described by many as British. He might have held a British passport, but certainly was an ethnic German. The name “Wiele” is not British at all but common in Flemish, German and Polish genealogies. A well-known architect named Wilhelm Bockmann (1832-1902) reports in his travel book, published in Berlin in 1893, that he had in 1892 attended a Christmas reception by the German Consul in Madras, where he was introduced to several German businessmen who lived in Madras, amongst them a Mr. Wiele and a Mr. Klein. About Theodor Klein being German there is no dispute.

The Wiele & Klein studio at Round Tana.(Courtesy: Vintage Vignettes.)

Bautze has documented that the Wiele & Klein studio goes back to an earlier studio, ‘Calastry Brothers, Madras’. Nothing is known of this company, except its logo consisting of a golden palette covering four paint brushes tied together by a kind of herbal ribbon with three branches of what appears to be stylised bay, “Wiele Klein & Co.” over the business at sometime and the logo as well.

According to a photo-historian who, however, gives no source, the company of Wiele & Klein was founded in 1882. The same date, but again without a source, is repeated by John Falconer, Head of Visual Materials, British Library. Calastry Brothers do not have any text at the back of their cabinet cards, whereas Wiele Klein & Co. printed branch locations and “Wiele & Klein / Photographers / and artists / by Appointment / to His Excellency The Governor of Madras.”

Picture postcards are the most important clues to date the photographs of Wiele & Klein. According to Prof. Bautze, “Picture postcards with lithographed photographic views were hardly introduced before 1898. The lithographed side with the tiny photographs had to be used for the sender’s written message. The ‘view side’ was hence crammed with lines of text and pictures, while the reverse side was exclusively reserved for the address of the addressee. It was only by 1905 that a ‘divided back’ was introduced, which means that the sender’s message as well as the address of the recipient could be written on the back, while the space in the front gave a photographic view.”

Postmarks of those times, reflecting the efficiency of the postal system, give a terminus ante quem to when pictures on the front must have been taken. In India, the card was postmarked when it was dispatched, while in Germany it was postmarked upon receipt. The earliest postcard Prof. Bautze has come across dates to dispatch from India on April 11, 1900 and reached Hamburg on April 29th, only 18 days later.

The late 19th Century was the most productive phase for the studio, a period which coincides with the awards Wiele & Klein received from 1890 to 1893. The prints which were produced during this time were albumen prints as a rule, the views were generally obtained from glass negatives measuring from 12 x 10 to 10 x 8 and, later, also 6 x 4 inches. They were sold unmounted and, unfortunately, without any mark or trade name.

Most, but not all, prints produced in the late 19th Century had captions. The albumen paper used for these prints is watermarked, but the name of the company that produced it is not identifiable. “W & K / Madras” in white letters below the identifying caption appears only on very few photographs.

At some points during the 19th Century, Wiele & Klein started to produce a set of stereographs, which were coined “Veritagrammes”. The set is called “Indian Series” and the creators are mentioned as “Wiele & Klein, Madras”.

The photographic work

Some of the major events of history in India were photographed by Wiele & Klein, such as, in 1900, the double wedding of the Maharajkumar Shri Krishnaraja IV Wadiyar of Mysore with Lakshmi Vilas Sannidhana Pratapa Kumari Devi Bai, daughter of Rana Thala Bane Singhji of Vana from Kathiawar (Gujarat), and Maharajkumari Cheluvajam­mani Wadiyar, younger sister of the Maharajkumar of Mysore, with Sirdar M. Lakshmi Kanth Raj Ur. They had invited the Governor of Madras, Sir Arthur Elibank Havelock and his wife Anne.

Another significant event documented in Wiele & Klein photographs is the Coronation Durbar in Delhi to commemorate the Coronation of Albert Eduard of Sachsen Coburg and Gotha, better known as Edward VII and his wife Queen Alexandra. The ceremonies in Delhi lasted from December 29, 1902 to January 7, 1903 and were extensively photographically covered by Wiele & Klein. The photographic coverage resulted in a large, luxurious album with actual photographs, a book with more than two hundred lithographed photographs and titled Coronation Durbar Delhi 1903, illustrated and a set of picture postcards, all duly marked.

Around 1904 – in any case before the introduction of the ‘divided back’ on picture postcards – Wiele & Klein produced their largest and probably most successful set of picture postcards with their own photographs. Each card is numbered and most of them are in landscape format, only a few being in upright format. The printing of the title is in deep red. The title is followed by the order number with the name of the publisher, with a certain lack of punctuation, such as “No. 48 Publisher Wiele & Klein. Madras”. The last line reads: “Printed in Saxony”. The numbering starts with ‘1’ and the highest number that Prof. Bautze knows of is ‘470’.

The postcard series captured not only the major sites and attractions of Madras but also those in places like ‘Stree­rungum’, ‘Ootacamund’, ‘Tri­chi­­­noply’, ‘Tanjore’, ‘Madura’, ‘Waltair’, ‘Tuticorin’ and ‘Balure’. There are also photographs of vehicles (‘Jutka’), landscapes (‘A View of the Koondahs across the Downs’), rural constructions (‘A Mala­bar Home’, ‘The Toda Cathedral, Niligiris’) and people (‘Hindoo Beggars’), just to mention a few.

For this set, several photographs, which were already part of the c.1899 first set, were reused. Quite a few other photographs which we know for certain were taken in the 19th Century were also included in this set.

Simultaneously, Wiele & Klein sold the right to publish their prints to other companies, such as the Bombay-based firm A.J. Combridge and Co., which used Wiele & Klein’s 19th Century photograph of ‘Mow­bray Road, Madras’ in picture postcard c.1904.

Also by 1904, the albumen paper used by the studio ever since its foundation was ­completely replaced by silver gelatine paper of glossy finish.

The later years

In 1908, E.F.H. Wiele established his own studio in Bangalore. The name we find on postcards after this year is ‘Wiele’s Studio, Bangalore’. At that time the ‘Printed in Saxony’ was replaced by ‘Printed in Germany’. Wiele’s cabinet card photographs became very distinguished and would need separate and longer description.

In 1908, Klein travelled to London, where he married the much younger Valeska Drinne­berg, sister of Erwin Drinneberg (1890-1964). It is not known what happened to the Kleins after Great Britain declared war on the German Empire in early August 1914. At least one photograph taken by Wiele & Klein was published in France during the Great War. It shows the original caption in the photograph in white letters: ‘Espla-nade Road, Madras’ below ­‘Edition de luxe. – P.G. Evrard, Paris.’ The French caption ­below the photograph reads: “Guerre de la Civilisation contre la Barbarie (1914) / La jolie Ville de Madras bombardée par les Allemands” (War of the civi­­li­sation against barbarism: the pretty city of Madras shelled by the Germans). This caption ­refers to the SMS ­Emden, a light cruiser of the ­Imperial German Navy that fired 130 shells at the fuel oil tanks of the harbour of Madras, late at night on September 22, 1914.

(To be concluded next fortnight)


In this issue

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The Parsis of Madras...
German Photographers...
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On the Bookshelves...
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