As much as the focus of this research has been the state of Bombay and print culture within it, I have also been interested in looking at the other centres of photography that contributed to a flourishing environment for the art form. To understand these photographic histories within print culture in Bengal, I spoke to photography historian Ranu Roychoudhuri, who has received the Ila Dalmia FICA Research Grant 2020 for her research project on Writing Histories of Pictorialism from India.
Roychoudhuri notes, “Pictorialism in India was not an act of translation of a modular techno-social-aesthetic form developed elsewhere. On the contrary, it is a narrative of creative innovations, often devoid of cultural exceptionalism, that contributed to transcultural dialogues.” Thus the research has been equally interested in Bengal as a center for intellectual and pedagogical conversations in photography but also delves into the dialogues between practitioners in cities like London and New York. A large part of vernacular magazines that form a part of this research support the argument that even these magazines, though published in local languages, were engaged in global conversations around photography, rather than local practices.
Within print culture, the research covers overlapping histories with literary magazines and literary societies and understands photography’s position within popular imagination and mass media. Advancements in photo-printing and photojournalism also form a part of the research, accessed through a study of a wider range of printed ephemera, such as instruction manuals, camera club journals and catalogues.
Understanding these variations in print cultures across the country, give us an understanding of the unique demands of the readers in both regions. The overlap with film in Bombay, or the overlap with literary sources and publications in Bengal both produced unique trajectories for photography in the two regions. More on the research project and the particular histories within Bengal in this conversation below.
Ranu Roychoudhuri is a historian of modern and contemporary art with focus on photography, South Asian studies, postcolonial theory, popular visual culture, and intellectual history of art. She specializes in connected histories of mass circulated photographs from South Asia. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes and she is presently working on her first monograph on twentieth-century camera cultures in India. She received her academic training at Jadavpur University, Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and The University of Chicago and held a research fellowship at Yale University. Previously she taught at Nalanda University and Yale University, and currently teaches at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, where she trains undergraduate and graduate students in the History of Art. Roychoudhuri is also a trained photographer and an independent curator.