Tag Archives: Dalai Lama

Homai Vyarawalla: India’s First Female Photojournalist

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.

In 1942 Vyarawalla moved to Delhi to join the British Information Services. There she photographed a significant meeting when Congress members voted for the partition of India. Vyarawalla also documented the rituals of Independence, the building of dams and steel plants and the state visits of the most famous names in 20th-century history, including Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ho Chi Minh, Marshall Tito and Russian leaders Brezhnev and Khruschev.

In 1956 Vyarawalla captured the first entry of a young Dalai Lama into India for TIME-LIFE. High-society magazines like Onlooker and Current requested her for “pictures of good looking women.” Not surprisingly, they published large spreads on the visits of Queen Elizabeth I and the fashionable U.S. First Lady Jackie Kennedy.

Getty Images

Homai Vyarawalla

But Vyarawalla had a style of her own, too. Once, while waiting for Mrs. Kennedy to emerge for a photo shoot in 1962, a colleague of Vyarawalla whispered to the photographer: “She isn’t dressed properly as yet!” Though Vyarawalla was from the westernized Parsi community where women also wore dresses, she mostly dressed in a saree on assignment. Formal attire offered respectability in conservative times when she was the only woman among photographers. Her colleagues, many of them younger, nicknamed her “mummy.”

At a time when candid photography was favored, she got the best shots but was unobtrusive and respectful of the dignity of her subjects. She captured her favorite subject favorite subject Jawaharlal Nehru, who was India’s first Prime Minister, in playful and vulnerable moments. Ironically, her most famous photographs of Gandhi were taken during his funeral in 1948. Vyarawalla loved black and white, and she processed her own images and believed that the choice of monochrome preserved them for posterity. And more than 50 years later, it’s easy to see why.

Candid, The Lens and Life of Homai Vyarawalla is on display at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City through Jan. 14, 2013.

Sabeena Gadihoke is associate professor of video production at Jamia University in Delhi and is the author of Camera Chronicles of Homai Vyarawalla.

Pictures of the Week: June 15 – 22

From Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel lecture in Norway and the death of Rodney King in California to violent mining strikes in Spain and a New Democracy in Greece, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

Pictures of the Week: May 11 – May 18

From violence in Colombia and a huge fire in Manila to soccer championships across Europe and the presidential handover ceremony in France, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

Pictures of the Week: March 30 — April 6

From Earth Hour celebrations around the world and Aung San Suu Kyi’s election in Myanmar to the Oakland shooting and tornadoes in Texas, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

Silhouettes in the News

Prior to the invention of photography in the mid-19th century, the silhouette was considered an effective and inexpensive way to record a person’s likeness or capture a scene. Although the practice can be traced back to the early 17th century, the term ‘silhouette’ derives from the harsh policies of the French finance minister Étienne de Silhouette.

The silhouette reduces an object to its most basic form. Its historical uses in art can be seen in the paper cuts of Hans Christian Andersen and the artwork of Kara Walker. In photographic terms, the silhouette is created in situations where the subject is backlit. It can be used to hide a person’s identity or play up their distinctive features, and its graphic form is often used artistically to photograph sport and dance. It heightens drama, adds atmosphere and makes a banal scene into a graphic wonder.

More than 200 years ago, the silhouette was the foremost way to document one’s appearance, but it’s still widely used in photographic frames today. From capturing the Costa Concordia to presidential primaries and pilgrims, LightBox looks at the use of silhouettes on the wires this month.