Siddhartha Ghosh’s Chobi Tola: Bangalir Photography-Chorcha (Taking Pictures: The Practice of Photography by Bengalis) is a pioneering work that came out in 1988 to critical acclaim and describes the history of photography in Bengal from its inception during the colonial period. The work has an important section on early women photographers in India that will interest lay readers and social scientists alike, not only because it unearths, through meticulous research, a number of early photographers whose contributions would otherwise have been forgotten by posterity, but also for exposing the ways in which colonial modernity touched and shaped women’s lives in ways we do not normally think about.
Photography was a capital-intensive pursuit and usually a pastime of only those who could afford it. But Ghosh’s book draws attention to the ways in which a photographic studio, along with other institutions, such as railways and English schools, became an important feature of colonized Bengali lives. Photographs were the clearest images of the interface between the two cultures: the colonized subject’s resistance and mimicry of Western sartorial and cultural norms was most evident in the early photos of Indian men and women. But the photographs also constructed social and family histories in ways inconceivable even a few decades earlier. Professional and commercial photography was available in Calcutta from the 1840s onward and widely used as a tool in the British colonial government to document, classify and record events, landscapes and people., The advent of women as photographers adds to our understanding of this fascinating history of the Empire’s visual outcomes.
Siddhartha Ghosh (1948-2002) was a mechanical engineer by education and a translator, writer and social scientist by inclination. His many works include the seminal study of nineteenth century British technology and its impact on colonized Bengalis, Koler Shohor Kolkata, (1991), seven books popularizing science for children and one work of science fiction.
Translated by Debjani Sengupta | TAP