Marie Louise Burke wrote in Swami Vivekananda in the West – New Discoveries (Vol. 4, p. 521, 529): “As the time for Swamiji’s departure from England drew near [December 1896], Miss Souter, as though to stay the sun in its passage, had the professional photographer Alfred Ellis take twelve studio pictures of him – one of which was the familiar meditation photo. In recent years a proof sheet from the photographic studio of Alfred Ellis & Walery Photographers, 51 Baker Street, London, has come to light in which six (not twelve) poses of Swamiji are shown. They are: the well-known meditation pose; one bust with robe and turban (right profile);one bust with robe and bare head (full face); two full length with robe and turban; one full length with robe and bare head.”
We found further information in Vishwavani (1929: Vol. 2, No. 12, p 858) that Swami Abhedananda was present when Swamiji’s meditation picture was taken. Swamiji sat cross-legged with his pants and shoes on, and he covered his feet with his robe.
An original print of Swamiji’s meditation pose is in the archives of Advaita Ashrama. In 1986 Swami Chetanananda had several negatives made of that print (unfortunately the original has now turned yellow) and brought them to America. After arriving in Los Angeles, he gave one of those negatives to Mr. John Hench and requested him to restore this photo as he had done to Sri Ramakrishna’s photo. Mr. Hench took the negative and made an enlargement and slowly worked on it. During the summer of 1988 he completed the project and gave the art work to Swami Chetanananda. Mr. Hench’s skill in restoring this ninety-year-old photograph is wonderful. One can feel the living presence of Swamiji in it. His face is serene, his eyes are fixed on the tip of his nose like a yogi, and he looks like Buddha in deep meditation. Sister Nivedita wrote Josephine MacLeod on October 3, 1901: “Mr. Tata told me that when Swamiji was in Japan everyone who saw him was immediately struck by his likeness to Buddha.” (Letters of Sister Nivedita, Vol. 1, p. 448)
We are deeply indebted to Mr. Hench for his loving service in restoring the pictures of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, which will be worshipped by millions of people all through the ages. And we are happy to present to the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and Swami Vivekananda these historical pictures, which are as close as possible to the originals.