“Photography arrived in India in the 1840s with the first photographic society in South India being created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, it was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. Previously no local forms of popular portraiture existed aside from representations of the divinities.” READ MORE
We are pleased to announced that the British Library has granted us funding for a major project (EAP 946) in the frame of its Endangered Archive Program.
The project “Representing Self and Family. Preserving Early Tamil Studio Photography” will get a two year funding in order to document and preserve Tamil studio photography, and therefore family portraiture, since its appearance in the mid-late 19th century up until the introduction of mechanised developing and printing, which radically transformed the practices and productions of studio photography.
The BL funded an earlier pilot project (EAP 737).
The results have been published online
Pattrika N°46- July 2016
“The S.T.A.R.S. project (Studies in Tamil Studio Archives and Society) hosted by the department of Social Sciences recently completed a 12 month intensive field survey funded by the EAP (British Library Arcadia) which explored the feasibility, scope and extent of creating
an extensive digital archive of family portraiture produced by commercial photo studios of Tamil Nadu, from the second half of the 19th century up to the introduction of mechanized processing of negatives and prints in the 1980s. S.T.A.R.S. aims to understand the different modes of production, diffusion and consumption of black and white manually-processed studio photography (prints, negatives and glass plates) which are rapidly disappearing either through natural degradation but also often voluntary destruction.” READ THE FULL ARTICLE
Between July 2015 and June 2016, the EAP 737 team conducted an in-depth survey of photo studios in 14 towns throughout the state of Tamil Nadu (South India) seeking out endangered photographic archives.
As a result of this pilot project, a comprehensive survey of 100 photo studios accompanied by over 1 000 digital samples of photographic material (glass-plates negatives, film negatives and prints) have been produced.
These studio photographs are now viewable online
Illustrations of the fieldwork can be viewed here : EAP 737_Studio Survey_2016
This project was funded by the Endangered Archives Programme, hosted by the French Institute of Pondichery and coordinated by Zoe Headley & Ramesh Kumar.
Cyanotype, Salt Albumen, Egg Albumen
CEIAS Newsletter N°10, Spring 2015
Report by Zoé E. Headley
“When I arrived at the IFP in the summer of 2013, my initial purpose was to pursue my ethnographic work on conflict management at the village level and coordinate the completion of a five year project on vulnerable village records. Amid the books, files and personal items I brought along with me for this three year stay was a box of some thirty ‘vintage’ Tamil studio prints which I had collected several years back whilst doing fieldwork in south-central Tamil Nadu. I had purchased these family photos in the shadowy lanes of what is known as the ‘Sunday market’ in Madurai. There, amid oily bicycle chains, rusted water pumps, sheets of tarpaulin, gutted radios, live poultry and pets, was a small shop buying and selling dismantled…” READ THE FULL REPORT
The HINDU- March 13, 2015
“An exhibition of photographs on a wall on Goubert Avenue, traces the social history of Tamil studio photography and family portraiture in South India
You can’t miss it if you are walking down Goubert Avenue (Beach Road) on the stretch where the back wall of the Institut Francais de Pondichery faces the sea. It’s likely you’ll find people standing around, gazing, reading, pointing and talking animatedly. Go over and you won’t be disappointed at what you find. On the wall – a series of walls – is an exhibition of old portraits (photographs) from across Tamil Nadu, gathered under the title Heritage of the Family: Tamil Studio Portraiture (1880 – 1980). Take a good look and read the accompanying text, and two facts come to light: these painstakingly-collected studio photographs offer a peek at the family history of Tamils over the decades, after photography came to India; they expose the importance Tamil families attached to family portraiture.” READ THE FULL ARTICLE
The Pioneer- March 13, 2015
“A project of the French Institute of Pondicherry aims to collect old studio portraits from Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry to document the socio-cultural issues that prevailed in the 19th century. Rupinder Kaur reports
With the ongoing fad of selfie sticks and digital cameras helping one document every minute of their life with random hashtags, the future generation of researchers would not face any hassles in figuring out the socio-cultural issues of our time. But the archivists at present have to dig out documents and photographs from various sources and locations to map what the scenario was like a over a century ago.” READ THE FULL ARTICLE
IFP hosts exhibition of pictures from a bygone era
The HINDU- February 26, 2015
“Can you imagine a time when the wrist watch was the ultimate symbol of wealth of a family, and even more so if it was adorning the wrist of a woman member of the household? Or wondered about what defined sartorial elegance in those times or why it was that folks posing in front of a commissioned photographer made sure that they had the Murphy radio in the backdrop?
An exhibition of family portraitures shot in studios across Tamil Nadu hosted on Beach Road by French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) Social Science Department, in collaboration with Pondy ART, holds a mirror on not just the dress sense of a bygone era but also provide a compelling narration on social mores and local heritage.”READ THE FULL ARTICLE
The Times of India, February 25th, 2015
“The French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) in collaboration with Pondy ART is holding an exhibition of photographs taken between 1880 and 1980 that showcase the rich social and cultural history of Tamil people. The exhibition ‘Heritage of Family: Tamil Studio Portraiture (1880 – 1980)’ will display photographs collected from various parts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry by a team of French and Indian researchers from the institute’s social science department led by Zoe Headley. The collections are part of an ongoing project tracing the history of Tamil studio photography and investigating the visual rhetoric of family portraiture in south India.” READ THE FULL ARTICLE