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Is photography a field for men? Not at all, proves Homai Vyarawalla

Mar 26, 2019

Is photography a field for men? Not at all, proves Homai Vyarawalla
Is photography a field for men? Not at all, proves Homai Vyarawalla

In the country where till a few decades ago, women weren’t allowed to go to work, this lady, Homai Vyarawalla, has earned the name “India’s first female press mobile photographer”. She has the fame of having captured some of the proud historic moments of indian history, as in, flag hoisting ceremony in red fort on the day next to Independence Day, cremation ceremonies of nation and worldwide known personalities Mahatma Gandhiji and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and more.

Born in a small place, Navsari, that’s in current Gujarat, but in Bombay state during British India phase, she travelled places with her father, who had a travelling theatre company. It was in her age of 27 years, she began her career, with The Illustrated Weekly of India, a Bombay magazine.

She captured war-time activities, as in, the fire brigade, the hospitals in scene, ever busy diligent ambulance workers in white and the fast paced rescue workers in red and all getting ready for any emergency and more.

When she moved to Delhi in 1942, to join British Information Services, she became evident at national level and was given the chance to capture important moments of well known leaders, including Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Indira Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family. World leaders in her list were Ho Chi Minh, American Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, and the ladies Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy.

The visit of Queen Elizabeth the second, to India was captured by her. Special moments of Gandhiji with his personal physician Sushila Nayar, Gandhiji being set for his funeral, British viceroy, lord Mountbatten departing India, Nehru meeting up with his two grandsons, Indira Gandhi and Fehroz Gandhi together, of Nehru meeting the people as the first prime minister of independent India, and Of Nehru hugging his sister Vijaylakshmi Pandit are highlights of her capture list.

Dalda 13 was the name she chose as the pseudoname for her photograph for the typical conservative reasons. Exactly one year after her spouse's demise, she quit her profession, though she was on the top of the ladder. When asked for the reason she said she couldn’t tolerate the current, trendy, westernised mindset of budding photographers, who did not know or follow the formal dress standards and behaviour code that the earlier photographers kept up. A few years later, she donated her artwork to Alkazi Foundation for the Arts in Delhi. National gallery of modern work, New Delhi, exhibits her portraits till date.

Google acknowledged her on her 104th birth anniversary, by making a doodle of the “First lady of the lens”. She thus joined the list of women to come up in google doodle: include India’s one of the top iconic singers, Begum Akhtar, India’s first woman lawyer Cornelia Sorabji, and founder of India’s oldest textile labour unit, Ahmedabad textile labour association, Anasuya Sarabhai. 

She’s celebrated for one big reason that she stood in her field, absolutely unshaken and sturdy, unaffected by the male dominant society, for the few decades she was in it.

She carved her name in a book titled “Three women and a camera”, by Sabeena Gadihoke who was a well known documentary writer then. Camera Chronicles of Homai Vyarawalla, the biography edition of Homai was again written by Sabeena, and released in 2006 which is just 6 years before the demise of the photographer icon. She has proved that proximity to those in limelight is just not enough to stay on top, but the smart eye, genuine ability to do the powerful captures and the right attitude to remain connected with people are equally important.