Three women photographers

Updated - July 17, 2017 12:40 pm IST

Published - July 17, 2017 11:40 am IST

The world is shrinking by the day, I get convinced almost daily, reacting to the intriguing requests for information I get from unknown people. The latest is from Swasti Bharti, from Gandhinagar, who is tracking Wiele & Klein, or Klein & Peyerl, if you wish. She wanted more to their story than what I’d written in several places. I could add little. Then she came up with a googly. Had I heard of Del Tufo & Co? Sadly, neither I nor any other Madras expert had heard of it. But she was a better miner than us; she dug up an article written by Ismeth Raheem, a collector of old photographs in Colombo. He had discovered three 19th Century women photographers in Ceylon and one owned Del Tufo & Co., ‘artists and photographers’ in Colombo who had studios in the 1880s-90s in Bombay, Bangalore, Ooty, and Mount Road, Madras.

Inez Maria Gibello (1876-1952) was born in Kutch, daughter of an Italian merchant and married Innocenzo del Tufo in 1895. They are next heard of in Colombo, setting up c.1900 a photographic studio that proclaimed, “Photographers by special appointment to the King of Italy”. Besides photographing clients, they offered developing and printing services, “enlargements of all sizes from amateur negatives”, hand-finishing black and white pictures with pencil and water colours, and a carpentry department that offered to repair the cameras of the day which had part-wooden bodies and came with wooden tripods.

The firm became ‘Madam Del Tufo’, “Artist, photographer and proprietress” in 1914 and vanished from the South Asian scene by 1930. During this period, it focused on family groups and portraits of the elite. Little is known of Madam’s life thereafter, except that she died in 1952. Can any history buff in the Photographic Society add to this?

The second of Ismeth Raheem’s women photographers was Julia Margaret Cameron, born in Calcutta in 1815 and married Charles Hay Cameron of the Indian Law Commission in 1838, a Spring-Autumn marriage. Cameron was one half of the Cameron-Colebrook Commission that in 1832 proposed reforms in governance in Ceylon. After his retirement, they spent time in England, then came to live on their estates in Ceylon where her photographic portraiture flourished till her death in 1879.

The third woman photographer had even more tenuous but even more intriguing connections with India. Ethel (Partridge) Coomaraswamy, born in 1872 in the UK, married Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy in 1902. Is there anyone in the art world in India who has not heard of Ananda Coomaraswamy, the Jaffna Tamil geologist who became the 20th Century authority on South Asian Art?

When he became the first Director of the Mineralogical Survey of Ceylon, she photographed all the arts and crafts they found while travelling around the Island.

Then, together they brought out in 1908, after returning to England, Coomaraswamy’s first major book, Medieval Sinhalese Art . Hers were the photographs, the contribution on music and the detailed descriptions of the handicrafts. The designing and printing of this classic was done in their home-based workshop in Gloucestershire. Soon after this, they divorced. She was the first of his four wives.

I was intrigued by her maiden name, not a very common one. Oakes & Co. in Madras once had a Partridge in its name, undoubtedly a partner. Better-known was advocate PW Partridge of King and Partridge who with Buchi Babu was a ‘father of Indian Cricket in Madras’.

In 1907, they led the ‘Whites Only’ Madras Cricket Club and the ‘Indians only’ Madras United Club against each other at Chepauk. Partridge needs an item of his own one day, but meanwhile were either of these Partridges connected with Ethel Partridge Coomaraswamy?

When the postman knocked…

‘Lighthouse-man’ DH Rao wonders when my picture of the High Court buildings (Miscellany, July 3) was taken by Klein or Peyerl as it does not show the lighthouse in its tallest tower?

These buildings were built between 1889 and 1892. The lighthouse was inaugurated in 1894. Was the picture then taken in 1892 or 1893, making it one of the oldest in the Vintage Vignettes Collection?

Also referring to the High Court story, Bhaskarendra Rao tells me the Madras City Civil Courts were also 125 on July 12, being instituted that day. He adds that the CCC’s Silver Jubilee was celebrated on December 1, 1917 and that TR Srinivasa Iyer, appointed the first Shirastedar (Chief Indian Court Officer) on the day the court opened, was also felicitated for his 25 years of service.

Krishna Palle wonders whether he and his family, resident on Eldam’s Road (Miscellany, February 1, 2016) are the oldest residents of the road. He is the fifth generation living on the road. His ancestor Rajtantra Pravina Palle Chentsal Rao, the first Registrar-General of Madras, bought a 13-acre property here. Later, one part was sold to CP Ramaswami Aiyar for The Grove, another to Janab Sulaiman Sait, and the family kept the third part. Palle adds that his maternal great-grandfather Nyapathi Subba Rao Panthulu was one of the ‘'Triplicane Six’ who founded The Hindu . He was also the first mayor of Rajahmundry (now Rajamahendravaram). His statue near the Collector’s office was unveiled by The Hindu ’s then Editor-in-Chief N Ram a couple of years ago.

The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places, and events from the years gone by, and sometimes, from today

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.