Homai Vyarawalla | First Woman Photojournalist In India
73 years after the Independence of India, women are still fighting for equality at the workspace. Issues like equal wages and gender bias doesn’t seem to get away anytime soon but at least women are finding their voices. The organisations that did not consider women suitable to work with them at first are also opening up slightly.
Now, back in the late 1930s, there was a Saree clad woman riding her bike, carrying a camera on her shoulder, breaking all social barriers. The woman was Homai Vyarawalla, also popularly known as Dalda 13. The first female photojournalist in India. She was so early into this profession, that her publishers could not determine what are the photographs clicked by a woman called. Unsure of the effect( who knows, they could have exploded when juxtaposed to the photographs clicked by her male colleagues), The illustrated weekly of India offered to publish her photographs under her husband’s name Manekshaw Vyarawalla.
Later, most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13″. Unlike the name suggests, She wasn’t running an ad campaign for Dalda vanaspati ghee. The reasons behind her choice of this name were that her birth year was 1913, she met her husband at the age of 13 and her first car’s number plate read “DLD 13″.
Homai Vyarawalla was also the proponent of the growing candid photography style, she firmly believed in capturing the passing moment raw and undirected. When asked about her style, she told Sabeena Gadihoke:
“I have never asked anyone to pose for me. I don’t like it, because the moment the subjects know that they are being photographed, a change comes over their countenance. The whole atmosphere changes. The body becomes stiff and eyes open up a bit, which is not natural. When you take a picture, it’s always in a split second. You either take it or miss and that must be the right moment,”
In 1970, a year after her husband’s death, she gave up photography as she did not wish to work with the new generation paparazzi culture. When asked why she quit photography while at the peak of her profession, she said
“It was not worth it anymore. We had rules for photographers; we even followed a dress code. We treated each other with respect, like colleagues. But then, things changed for the worst. They were only interested in making a few quick bucks; I didn’t want to be part of the crowd anymore.“
Now, the reason we put up her above statement Here is– to emphasize the very fact that the present time isn’t making things easier. A lady who has seen many ups and downs( including, the fact she couldn’t publish under her own name) left her career at the peak, it’s conspicuous from her choice that paparazzi culture is far more worst. And visibly the scale of paparazzi culture in 2020 is thousand times greater than that of in the1970s with the availability of mobile devices and digital platforms.
- Do people entering this profession now, don’t face a similar dilemma anymore?
- Are they happy working in this paparazzi culture?
- Does photojournalism require to have a set of rules?
– questions go on and so does life.
In January 2012, Padma Vibhushan Homai Vyarawalla passed away leaving behind some most celebrated photographs including the departure of Lord Mountbatten, India’s last British viceroy; the first raising of independent India’s flag; preparations for Mohandas K. Gandhi’s funeral cremation; Dalai Lama XIV’s arrival into exile in India; and, especially, her many images of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.
In today’s smartphone age, when everyone has a camera, numerous editing apps, it is perhaps hard to imagine the pains Vyarawalla took to develop her technical craft. But considering her detestment towards paparazzi culture, she represents much simpler times where photojournalism was a noble profession that sought the pursuit of truth.