When Cunningham got himself appointed by the then Viceroy, Lord Canning, to head the newly established Archaeological Survey, the Raj had been planted on the Indian soil, and so had some of the seminal institutions, such as the geographical and revenue surveys through which the British had begun to map, classify and store information on India. In their grand scheme of collating statistical information on their colonial domain, they clearly allocated substantive roles to archaeology and photography. The re-establishment of the Archaeological Survey in 1871, once again with Cunningham as its head, this time as the Director General, coincided with the first formal population census of British India. By then, an ambitious photographic project, The People Of India, which was initiated as a personal venture by Canning and his wife, had taken shape as an extensive official survey and documentation, and was on the verge of completion.
Although the compulsions of graphically presenting the explored architecture, exposed objects, and sites, which were common to both Fergusson and Cunningham’s scholarship, derived inspiration from the contemporary and eighteenth-century values that privileged vision, they also fed into an essential aspect of archaeology’s use, viz., it’s truth-value. By roping photography as a part of the archaeological method, the archaeological epistemology was convincingly strengthened. For, the camera could establish spade work as a truth-making enterprise. The necessity of presenting accurately what was seen within a historical site was well enunciated by Fergusson in his ‘Preface’ for Picturesque Illustrations, his report of a survey where he had neither used the modern camera nor excavated, but felt compelled to declare that––
“with regard to the Plates, I can answer for their correctness, as they are all from sketches taken on the spot with the camera lucida, and never afterwards touched till put into the hands of the artist here. The foreground and the skies are generally the artist’s, as I seldom put them in on the spot; but in all cases I have insisted on the buildings being literal transcription of my sketches, and in no instance have I allowed any liberty to be taken with them” (1848, p. iv).