Graham Bower, Ursula (1914-1988)*

Ursula Graham Bower in Arunachal Pradesh, 1946-47 [Courtesy Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford].

Ursula Graham Bower was one of the first women to shoot ethnographic films, though she had little formal training as either film-maker or anthropologist.

She spent the period 1938-1944 living in the Naga Hills of Northeast India, at first carrying out anthropological research with the Zemi  and from 1942, co-ordinating local resistance to the threatened Japanese invasion of India . Despite the wartime conditions, she managed to procure some 16mm film-stock, and shot around two hours of material. About half of this is in colour, which represents an early use of colour film by an anthropologist.

Most of this material, along with some ethnographic notes, has been put up on the web by Alan MacFarlane and may be viewed  here, where it is also downloadable.

After the war, now married, Ursula moved to Arunachal Pradesh, also in Northeast India, and lived there from 1946 to 1948 with her husband, Tim Betts, who had been appointed Political Officer in the Subansiri district. Here she shot a further 40 minutes of footage on the local Apa Tani and Dafla (now known as Nyishi) groups, some in black and white, some in colour. This can be viewed, along with some further footage on the Naga, via the Pitt Rivers Museum website here.

Graham Bower’s footage is remarkably well-shot and although limited in quantity and somewhat fragmentary, it is of considerable historical and ethnographic interest. The high degree of rapport that she had with her subjects, particularly the Naga, comes through very clearly in her material and was unprecedented among ethnographic film-makers of her period.