This article considers the ways in which the work of Samuel Bourne (1834–1912), one of the major British photographers working in India, constructed visual narratives of racial difference during the early years of full imperial British rule following the ‘Indian Mutiny’ of January 1857 to November 1858. In some respects Bourne’s photographs are a typical product of the period, offering evidence of changing British attitudes towards Indian subjects in the aftermath of the Mutiny. In particular, the photographs of Bourne and his firm, Bourne & Shepherd, helped fix the representation of Indian people as symbols of nostalgia, alienation, traditionalism and idleness. Those symbols were constructed through Bourne’s textual and visual descriptions of the exotic ‘native’, as well as his varied representations of the duality between religion and modernism, and Indianness and Britishness. As such, the work of this photographer and his firm played with imperial visions borrowed from existing imaginative geographies of India. Nonetheless, his visualization of Indian life in the context of a newly constructed political era also reveals the construction of an Anglo-Indian culture, at a time when it was still in the process of being formed.