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Friday, February 25, 2011

India's First Woman Photo Journalist

Homai Vyarawalla (born 1913), commonly known by her pseudonym "Dalda 13," is India's first woman photojournalist. Starting in late 1930s she retired in the early 1970s. In 2011, she was chosen for the second highest civilian award Padma Vibhushan by Govt. of India.
Early life and education
Homai was born in Navsari, a Mafussil town in Gujarat. Her father was an actor from the Urdu-Parsi theatre. The family was poor and her parents packed her off to Bombay for further school and college studies. Homai took an Honours degree from Bombay University and a Diploma in Art from J J School of Art. As a very young woman, she fell in love with another photographer called Maneckshaw and married him. She lived happily ever thereafter. Maneckshaw had a tremendous influence on Homai as a photographer. In an interview which Homai gave to Preeti Verma Lal, she recalled, 'I remember my first shot as a photographer, in 1938. A group of women from the Women's Club in Bombay had gone for a picnic party and I photographed them. My first published pictures were in the Bombay Chronicle  a whole range of pictures, for which I was paid one rupee in cash for each.' In the early days Homai would take photographs and her husband Maneckshaw would spend hours in the dark room at home to get the right colours. In the field of photography and photo-journalism Homai and Maneckshaw complemented and supplemented each other.
She started her career in 1930s and thereafter received noticed at the national level when she moved to Mumbai in 1942 with her family, before moving to Delhi where in the next thirty years she shot many political and national leaders, including Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family working as a press photographer. At the onset of the World War II, she started working on assignments of the Bombay based The Illustrated Weekly of IndiaAfter her death of her husband she moved to Vadodara in 1973. magazine which over the years till 1970, published many of her black and white images, which later became iconic.
In 2010, the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (NGMA) in collaboration with the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts presented a retrospective of her work. 

As a great pioneer in the world of Indian photo-journalism, Homai Vyarawalla came out with great photographs starting from 1938 for over a period of 35 years till 1973. The lasting beauty of her photographs - 'whether utilitarian or inspirational' - can be summed up in one brilliant phrase of the great American poet Robert Frost: 'Art should strip life to form.' Viewed in this light Homai Vyarawalla was a great creator of photographic art in our country. Though the creative world of her works of art sprang from life, yet at the same time it represented a unique world of its own, serenely detached from the surrounding cauldron of clutter, clatter and confusion. Consequently her works of photographic art have preserved for posterity a beautiful slice of life that might otherwise have been dissolved in the constant flux and flow of reality in the never ending river of time.

It is difficult to find words with which to pay tribute to the indescribable genius of Homai Vyarawalla. Always moving in joy and child-like simplicity, she produced her great photographs in an effortless and exquisite manner, which always reflected and radiated the ecstatic quality of her soul. Her work will continue to speak and proclaim for centuries.    

Her Photographs:
Pandit Nehru besides a 'Photography Strictly Prohibited by order' signboard at Delhi's Palam airport.

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru greets American first lady Jacqueline Kennedy at his residence with the traditional 'tilak' (vermilion mark) on the forehead. In 1969, Jacqueline Kennedy was on a private nine day visit to India and stayed with Nehru-Gandhi family at Teen Murti.

                            Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at an Indian village.

                                                Homai at work, shooting Indira Gandhi. 
                                             At an exhibition, with children.  

                                          Nehru spinning khadi on a modern charkha. 
Homai's "favourite photo". Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Ambassador to Russia, received at the Delhi airport by brother Jawaharlal Nehru.  
                                            Indira Gandhi near Jawaharlal Nehru's body at Teen Murti.
                 At Triveni Sangam in Allahabad, where Nehru's ashes were immersed. 
                          At Triveni Sangam in Allahabad, where Nehru's ashes were immersed. 
                                      Helen Keller with her friend Polly Thompson, in Delhi. 

  Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay meet the German Ambassador during their visit to Delhi soon after they conquered Mount Everest.

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