Homai Vyarawalla - 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. This selection of rare photographs tells her life story amid footnotes of an emerging nation, as she saw it.



India’s first woman press photographer Homai Vyarawalla, who passed away January 15, 2012, 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. Belonging to the small Parsi community of India, Homai was born in 1913 into a middle-class home in Navsari, Gujarat. Her father was an actor in a traveling Urdu-Parsi theatre company. Homai grew up in Bombay. She was the only girl in her class to complete her matriculation examination.AFP

Having learned photography from Maneckshaw Vyarawalla, whom she married later, Homai was to spend nearly three decades of her career in Delhi. After a career of 33 years as press photographer, Homai gave it up one day at the age of 57, disillusioned when the Nehruvian dream began to falter. She lived in near-anonymity until 1989. Fiercely independent, she continued to live on her own in Vadodara until she passed away.

The great value of Homai’s work lies in her vast collection of photographs that archive the nation in transition, documenting both the euphoria of Independence as well as disappointment with its undelivered promises. She was the only professional woman photojournalist in India during her time and her survival in a male-dominated field is all the more significant because the profession continues to exclude most women even today. Ironically, Western photojournalists who visited India such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Margaret Bourke-White have received more attention than their Indian contemporaries. In an already invisible history, Homai Vyarawalla’s presence as a woman was even more marginalized.

Homai received India’s first National Photo Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2011. In 2010, Vyarawalla gave her entire collection of prints, negatives, cameras and other memorabilia to the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, New Delhi for safekeeping and documentation. A retrospective of her work was held at the NGMA soon after, bringing her vast archive into public view. Learn more about this book at Mapin Publishing's website

Reproduced here is a selection of photos from the biographical work – India in Focus: Camera Chronicles of Homai Vyarawalla by Sabeena Gadihoke, published by Mapin Publishing in association with Parzor Foundation, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts and the National Gallery of Modern Art. The result of extensive interviews conducted by Gadihoke with Homai, the book is a tribute to her indomitable spirit.

Click through the numbered links to view these rare images from Homai Vyarawalla's lens [Images courtesy of Mapin Publishing. Reproduced by permission.]

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