Twin Sisters With Cameras | A rare exhibition in Lucknow showcasing two women's work lost in history
Today, dive with us into the sands of time and travel to the India of the 1930s, where two ordinary women explored their world in a new, bold light and left behind a legacy extraordinary.
This is the story of Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy and their lives through innumerable photographs they captured but never showed to the world.
When you look into the past, you will hardly find professional women photographers in the 20th century India, or, well, in any era. When Virginia Woolf said, "For most of history, Anonymous was a woman," we felt those words ringing in our ears and piercing us straight in our hearts.
Through the lens of Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy: A legacy of the twin sisters
Poignant, is how we'd like to describe the feeling. It epitomises the standing of women in historical records.
We stepped into the ancient Lal Baradari of Awadh and felt the whiff of air carrying us into a world of glory. The exhibition, 'Twin Sisters with Cameras', has been curated by three eminent women — Sabeena Gadihoke, Mallika Leuzinger and Tapati Guha Thakurta.
We spoke to one of them to unravel narratives of the twin sisters' lives. Here's how the tete-a-tete went.
Sabeena Gadihoke shared the story of how she met Debalina Mazumder (1919-2012) and Manobina Roy (1919-2001), "I was a camera person and a videographer, was very fascinated by the idea of a legacy of women photographers and wanted to find a larger history. The problem was I didn't see too many women around me and decided to make a film."
"This is back in 1998, it was a film about three women photographers and one among them was someone I ended up writing a book on later in 2006. It is called 'Camera Chronicles of Homai Vyarawalla', about India's first woman press photographer who photographed in the late 1930s," she continued.
"She was a professional photographer but I did not find any other women till the 1970s and 80s, so I'm thinking to myself "what is happening in between?" It so happened that coincidentally and in a serendipitous way, I got a grant from Bangalore-based India Foundation for the Arts to do a study on women photographers, which meant that it gave me the money to travel all over the country to conduct my research. I stumbled upon an essay in a Bengali book by a scholar and got it translated. It was on women photographers in Bengal and among them, he had mentioned the twins. So, I ended up going to Bombay and meeting Manobina Roy."
In conversation with curator Sabeena Gadihoke
Manobina Roy, wife of the legendary Indian director Bimal Roy, lived in Bombay with her son and daughter. Whereas, Debalina Mazumder lived in Kolkata. "Over 1999 and 2000, I conducted extensive audio cassette interviews of the two women (probably the only actual interviews with them)," Sabeena expressed.
"Many years later, my co-curator, Mallika would do her PhD on these two women and another photographer, so that's a little later. In the meanwhile, Tapati worked for this organisation, Centre for the Study of Social Studies in Calcutta, who had digitised Debalina's collection and kept it there. However, nobody had really done much about Manobina, so what I used to do was, because by now I was friends with the family and she had passed away in 2000, I would go back to meet the family every few years and would scan her photographs," she added.
It was through another grant from the Murty Nayak Foundation that the curators hosted the first exhibition in Calcutta last year. After this, the exhibition travelled to New Delhi and finally has come to Lucknow. After which, the next leg will be funded and organised in Bangalore.
"Like Joy, Manobina's son, said, the exhibition has acquired a life of its own," Sabeena ruminated.
'They not only just very gifted photographers but good technicians': On the women's work that spanned 6 decades
We then went on to talk about how and why women have been erased from historical records.
"If I had to look for women photographers in professional spaces, I was not likely to find them, but so many women were taking photographs within the home (away from the spotlight) who never earned the appreciation they so deserved. My essay in 2003 is about all these women who were actually homemakers, but who were taking the most amazing photographs and the world never saw their work."
"The sisters' work is extraordinary. They not only just very gifted photographers but good technicians because they knew how to process, how to create contrast, shadows. The two also had conceptual skills. Plus, the amount of experience they had - their work spanned six decades, which is exceptional," Sabeena extolled the twin sisters' work.
Unravel stories of the past & visit the exhibition for a cathartic release
Innumerable women of our past continue to remain in the shadows and it is high time to bring them into light. Thanks to exhibitions like these that we are taking a step forward in the progress, in knowing these glorious women lost in the pages of history and here's to carrying the feminist movement to new heights.
'Twin Sisters With Cameras' has been brought together by CREA, Lucknow Bioscope and CSSSC Kolkata and generously supported for the Calcutta and Delhi leg by PhotoSouthAsia. Visit the exhibit to unwrap tales of the past and experience a rather cathartic release!
When: Till August 12, 11 AM - 7 PM
Where: Lalit Kala Akademi, Lal Baradari, Qaiserbagh, Lucknow