Exhibition brings together photos taken by 1919-born twin sisters

Debalina Sen Roy and Manobina Roy, photographed by Bimal Roy, c. 1940

Debalina Sen Roy and Manobina Roy, photographed by Bimal Roy, c. 1940 | Photo Credit: The Hindu

An exhibition opened in Kolkata on Thursday bringing together, for the first time, the works of the 1919-born twin sisters, Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy, not only among the first Indian women to arm themselves with the camera but also pioneers in candid photography. 

The show, being held at the Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre, will go on till March 31. “The exhibition underlines the importance of the family archive in discovering the stories of women, both before and behind the lens, during the early and the mid-20th century. Their passion for the camera image opens up new vistas in the field of art, salon, and family photography of that period. Their practice creates an important bridge between the home and the world as well as between amateur and professional photography,” historian Tapati Guha-Thakurta, one of the curators, told  The Hindu

“Their work stands testimony to the many documentary and aesthetic uses of the camera within the domestic worlds they inhabited. This exhibition uses their photographs to both reconstruct their life stories and to reflect on their undeterred commitment to photography as a creative vocation,” Prof. Guha-Thakurta said. 

Debalina Mazumder (who passed away in 2012) and Manobina Roy (who died in 2001) were initiated into photography when they were just 13, by their father, Binode Behari Sen Roy, a school principal in the princely state of Ramnagar in the United Provinces. At the time, staged and posed photographs were the norm and their early works reveal a preoccupation and proficiency with this approach. When lighter and portable cameras made candid photographs possible, they became adept at taking candid pictures. 

“After Debalina and Manobina got married, their photographic pursuits had to be accommodated within their growing responsibilities as wives and mothers amidst new households in Calcutta and Bombay. But there were occasions that brought respite and greater freedom. Their joint stay in London with their children in 1959 was one such opportunity... The pursuit of photographing other worlds continued during their travels to Paris, Geneva and Moscow,” the Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre said in a release. 

Even after colour photography arrived, they preferred the tonalities of grey in black and white photography. When they eventually acquired digital cameras with automated functions, they still preferred to use manual controls to compose their images. 

The Archer, by Debalina Sen Roy, Santiniketan, 1936

The Archer, by Debalina Sen Roy, Santiniketan, 1936 | Photo Credit: The Hindu

“The sisters never travelled anywhere without their cameras, nor were they merely photographers. They were enthusiastic archivists who selected, catalogued, captioned, and preserved their photographs... With advancing years, the sisters were haunted by unsettling apprehensions. What if they lost the ability to make photographs? Debalina had recurring dreams about leaving her camera behind. Manobina lost vision in one eye but always carried the camera with her, fearing that because of her failing eyesight she might miss taking a good photograph. What would happen when they could no longer see their own photographs? How would they remember the past and the lives that they had lived?” the centre said.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2022 11:23:31 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/exhibition-brings-together-photos-taken-by-1919-born-twin-sisters/article65080016.ece