Caravan Cover. August 1976. The Asiatic Society of Bombay

In our consciousness today, the Caravan magazine might be a very familiar name but the Caravan I speak about here is the now-defunct magazine that started in the 1940s. Founded by Vishwa Nath, of the Delhi Press, the Caravan today is a revival of that original magazine, now run by Nath’s grandson. Branded as “the fortnightly of national resurgence”, Caravan featured a wide variety of articles that embodied the spirit of nationalism and independence that wasn’t far away. 

I bring up the Caravan as it was a popular magazine and beginning in 1940 makes it a worthy candidate to be read alongside similar magazines that were concurrent and are particularly studied for their contributions to photography. The two magazines, The Illustrated Weekly in India and the Life magazine in the United States through recent scholarship, have come to be known for their undeniable contributions to photography, mostly photojournalism. But more than their contributions to photojournalism, I take their role in having opened up the field of photography to amateurs, as the link between them and Caravan. 

Started in 1936, LIFE magazine has been given a special place within the history of photojournalism, particularly American photojournalism, because of how the images featured in the magazine shaped a collective memory of the 20th century. Margaret Bourke-White, W Eugene Smith, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and numerous others, have been immortalised in the pages of the magazine, and would also be considered some of the most landmark names within the history of photojournalism. The magazine also featured a section titled “Pictures to the Editors”, where readers could send in images with short write-ups explaining it, which could range from the scene of a storm-ravaged ship, to photographs of a toddler in a pram. 

While this was happening in the United States, we now turn our attention to a magazine like the Illustrated Weekly of India (from now, The Weekly). With the British editor, Stanley Jepson at its helm, photography had already become a prominent feature of this weekly. Starting in the early 20th century, the Weekly had begun to provide its readers with photographs alongside news, early glimpses of photojournalism. We know of accounts of disasters such as the San Francisco Earthquake or a derailed train in Karnataka being accompanied by images by photographers who were either employed by the Weekly or images that had been specially requested from news agencies in other countries. But it was Jepson, who gave photography a permanent place within the Weekly, through dedicated columns for photography, competitions under specific themes and encouraging photographers such as Homai Vyarawalla to pursue the path of photojournalism by commissioning photo-narratives to appear in the publication. Subsequently, several photojournalists, TS Satyan, Sunil Janah, Kulwant Roy and others found their place within the pages of the Weekly. 

Apart from photojournalistic images, the Weekly had also created a space for participation, through their competitions and sections where photographs of married couples would be featured. This and other nostalgic memories of the readers’ associations with the photographic content is covered in an article titled The Printed World by photography scholar, Sabeena Gadihoke. Readers could submit photographs for each of these sections which the editors would then choose from. The model of competitions for photography was not an unfamiliar one, but it is the access to these competitions within popular magazines that seems to be a step towards the advancement of photography. It seems clear that already by the 1940s the space for photography had truly opened up for the amateur. Magazines across the board, even when their focus wasn’t necessarily photography—such as The Indian Listener, the fortnightly programme guide to the All India Radio—were interested in including photographic material which they were open to sourcing from all kinds of readers, not just professionals. 

Thus in the world of the printed magazine where photography had come to acquire such an undeniable position, Caravan, with an Indian editor leading it, also participated in this inclusive space that had been created for photography. The wide popularity of the magazine, likely to have also been made easier by its low cost, give us an insight into how its readers were engaging with photography. Apart from photojournalistic images that accompanied article, in later issues of the magazine from the 60s and the 70s, I encountered a section, likely to have been a recurring feature, called “Shoot to Us”, which once again, following the participatory model invited images from its readers, particularly those who identified photography as their hobby and were amateurs. Some of these images, truly driven by the interests of these individuals, capture subjects like, children’s portraits, sunsets and everyday occurrences around the city, accompanied by quirky captions. One such image shows a child, most likely participating in a dance competition, with the caption “Hmm, now should I dance like Hema Malini or Waheeda Rahman?”. 

Caravan. August 1976. The Asiatic Society of Bombay

It is only in relative terms that photography became more inclusive over time. As a hobby, it could still be considered an expensive one, but with a distinct middle class steadily increasing by the 50s, we definitely see an increase in the ease of engaging with an activity like photography. An advertisement from Caravan requests its readers to only send in photographs that are “natural, and not posed” and with a special instruction that read “do not dress up specially for them, with necktie or bow.” This older version of the Caravan finally ceased publication in 1988. 

Note: Earlier issues of the magazine have been difficult to access but in the continuing hunt for magazines and archives, I hope to unearth some of these older issues to complete the picture of photography within popular magazines. 

Further reading: 

  1. With the popularity of photojournalism, we also see the formation of photo-agencies. In India, Kulwant Roy, a noted photojournalist, began his own agency, Associated Press Photos in the 60s. For more on Kulwant Roy the photojournalist
  2. For an in-depth history of the Life Magazine and its contributions to photography Life Magazine and the Power of Photography, Edited by Katherine A. Bussard and Kristen Gresh. 

Images courtesy: The Asiatic Society of Mumbai

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