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YPF 2015: Malavika Karlekar’s Old Wedding Photographs of India


“Framing the Conjugal Bond” is an exceptional occasion to see the finest vintage wedding photographs from India collected and presented by Indian scholar Malavika Karlekar who is editor at Indian Journal of Gender Studies and curator of Re-presenting Indian Women, A Visual Documentary 1875-1947, both at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in New Delhi.  

Malavika has thoroughly documented and researched not only the photography studios (mostly from Calcutta) but also the practice of Indian middle class and high society in arranged marriage, notably through the postures of the couples, the stage setting with props and accessories, and in the later days the more casual poses among couples who chose their mates through love, although the wedding  still had to be negotiated and arranged by the families.

The sight of an under-age bride next to a much older and bearded husband may be shocking today but this was a common practice throughout India’s different social  classes  . Like the portrait of the Financial Minister of Bhanavgar State sitting next to his child-bride who stands close without touching him, her clenched fist  aside. What a surprise for us to discover India’ most famous poet Rabindranath Tagore posing with his ten year-old child-bride! The twenty-one year-old poet standing proudly folding one arm at his waist and looking intensely at the camera, while the child-bride a bit intimidated and pinching her lips, sitting across a balustrade-decor that separates them, as per the photographic convention. for religious or  social convention, physical contact between man and wife was carefully avoided in conjugal portraits. As this Parsi couple from Bombay photographed circa 1880’s, the young wife wears a single earing and the husband sitting on a parapet, wears a traditional headgear rarely seen today, such parapet functions here again as a denial of physical contact, the wife appears to fold her left arm away. Exception to the convention is the Maharaja Birchandra of Tripura, this multi-talented painter, photographer, composer of music, and scholar of Vashnav religious literature, wraps his right arm around Queen Monomohini in an intimate embrace, with his left hand the king operates a remote shutter connected to his camera, making this a possible early Selfie in the history of Indian photography!

It was also especially moving to see Kalavika in conversation with Aung San Suu Kyi who came to visit her exhibition at the Institut Francais as they were class mates in New Delhi in the 1960’s.

The 7th Yangon Photo Festival
Institut Français de Birmanie
340, Pyay Road, Sanchaung Township
Yangon, Myanmar
Tel : + 95 (1) 536 900 / 537 122 / 535 428
[email protected]

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