Besides capturing the last days of the British Empire, Homai Vyarawalla was one of the key visual chroniclers of the post-independence era, tracing the euphoria and disillusionments of a new nation as India’s first female photojournalist. For years her vast archive chronicling three decades of Indian history received less attention than the Indian work of her international contemporaries, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Margaret Bourke-White. But a new retrospective titled “Candid, The Lens and Life of Homai Vyarawalla“ at Manhattan’s Rubin Museum of Art is finally paying tribute to her groundbreaking work.
Born in Navsari, Gujarat in 1913, Vyarawalla learned photography from her boyfriend Maneckshaw Vyarawalla. Her training at the Sir J. J School of the Arts, Mumbai influenced her pictorial sense as did the modernist photographs she got to see in second hand issues of LIFE magazine. Her early portraits of everyday urban life and modern young women in Mumbai show these influences, but since Vyarawalla was unknown and a woman, these were initially published in the Illustrated Weekly and Bombay Chronicle under Maneckshaw’s name. (read more)
Homai Vyarawalla (1913-2012) was India’s first female photojournalist. This exhibition, the first on Vyarawalla outside of India, will present her photography from the late 1930s to 1970, and narrate her extraordinary life with a biographical film and ephemera from her career.
From early in her career, Homai Vyarawalla documented key events from the generation around Independence, including the historic meeting of Gandhi and the Congress Committee on the 1947 plan for partition, and she recorded the visits to India of world leaders and dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ho Chi Minh, and Zhou Enlai. She was revered in India and her recent death at age 98 generated tributes around the world. The exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts in New Delhi. (read more)
On display at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City through Jan. 14, 2013.
The first Republic Day Parade on 26 January 1950, was held at the ground where the National Stadium stands today with the Purana Quila in the background. It was only after this that its venue shifted to India Gate.
Although India obtained its independence on 15 August 1947, it did not yet have a permanent constitution; instead, its laws were based on the modified colonial Government of India Act 1935, and the country was a Dominion, with George VI as head of state and Earl Mountbatten as Governor General. On 28 August 1947, the Drafting Committee was appointed to draft a permanent constitution, with Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as chairman. While India’s Independence Day celebrates its freedom from British Rule, the Republic Day celebrates the coming into force of its constitution.
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.” (Homai Vyarawalla)
#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
“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.
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