© Homai Vyarawalla, 1940s-1950s, The First Lady of Indian Press Photography
India’s first woman press photographer Homai Vyarawalla, who passed away January 15, 2012 at the age of 98, captured the last days of the British Empire in India. Her work also traces the birth and growth of a new nation. The story of Homai’s life and her professional career spans an entire century of Indian history.
Working for the British Information Service, Homai was allowed access to Indian leaders, a level of contact granted to a cherished few. She recounted her fascination with the process of photography, the camera, the developing and the printing during her years at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay, where she studied painting. Realizing her potential, she quickly took to photography and the first few photographs that she took were published in the Illustrated Weekly and the Bombay Chronicle under her husband’s name. This set off a lifetime of work in a largely male dominated field, where Homai spent most of her time in a crisp cotton saree with her large hand-held camera.
“I didn’t like those flimsy sort of saris flying around in the wind and always used a safety pin to hold my sari in place. I wore white and cream khaddar saris for work and silk saris for evening functions at the Gymkhana Club or at Rashtrapati Bhawan. The silk ones would often spread out, getting caught in the legs of photographers and tear. I always carried safety pins with me to tack them up in case that happened.
I started clicking photographs at the age of 13 in Bombay with a box camera in 1926 and I shot my last photograph in 1970, 40 years ago. Since then, I have not touched the lens. But I am aware of the drifts in press photography down the decades,” Vyarawalla had told IANS in an interview.
#1: Pandit Nehru releasing a dove, a sign of peace at a public function at the National Stadium in New Delhi, 1950s
#2: Mahatma Gandhi’s body at Birla House. Sardar Patel, Nehru, Mountbatten, Baldev Singh, and Gandhi’s son Ramdas are seen in the picture, 1948
#3: The Dalai Lama in ceremonial dress leads the mount down from the high border pass into India. Directly behind him is the Panchen Lama. They were both wearing gold brocade gowns and jeweled gold hats. Homai documented for Time Life magazine, the first crossing of the young Dalai Lama who came through the Nathu La pass, in north Sikkim, in 1956
#4: Homai with her smaller Speed Graphic camera on her shoulder
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