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February 24, 2024
Art & Culture

Twin Sisters with Cameras

Twin Sisters

Photographs of daughter Aparajita standing above the Bombay-Poona Highway, Mid 1960s by Manobina Roy

An exhibition of photographs by Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy

Curated by

Sabeena Gadihoke, Mallika Leuzinger, Tapati Guha-Thakurta

In collaboration with CREA and Jadunath Bhavan, a unit of the CSSSC and generously supported by PhotoSouthAsia, an initiative of the MurthyNAYAK Foundation

At the Main Art Gallery, 2nd floor

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

Kamladevi Complex,

India International Centre

From August 13, 2022 to August 27, 2022 including weekends and holidays except August 15 2022.

The Exhibition will be inaugurated on August 12, 2022 at 6.30 PM by Sharmila Tagore

The show will be accompanied by special events such as Curator walks on weekends and a panel discussion on the eve of World Photography Day titled ‘The Home and Beyond: The World of the Amateur Photographer.’

Short Description:

This exhibition delves into the photographic lives of the twin sisters Debalina Mazumder (1919 – 2012) and Manobina Roy (1919 – 2001). Their practice encompassed a range of subjects and genres, joint experiments with light and shadow in 1930s Ramnagar (Benaras) giving way to striking portraits of family and friends in and around their homes in Calcutta and Bombay and distinctive glimpses of 1960s Europe.

Long Description from Curators Note:

Trafalgar Square, London, c.1959 by Debalina Mazumder

This exhibition presents a selection of photographs from the extraordinary body of works created by Debalina Mazumder and Manobina Roy.

The two sisters started learning photography from the age of twelve or thirteen in the early 1930s. The magic of photography through the alchemy of light and silver halides enthralled them, and sparked an engagement that spanned almost six decades. Even after colour photography arrived, they preferred the tonalities of grey in black and white photography. When they eventually acquired SLR cameras with automated functions, they continued using manual controls to compose their images. Their best works bear testimony to their technical expertise, artistic vision and aesthetic sensibility.

When the sisters had begun photography, staged and posed photographs were the norm. Their early works reveal a preoccupation and proficiency with this approach. When lighter and portable cameras made ‘unstaged’ photographs possible, they became adept at taking strikingly composed candid pictures. The photos of their family members, children and pets attest to their dexterity in capturing the right moment as well as the patience required in waiting for it. Their compositional skills along with their understanding of highlights and shadows resulted in the creation of enduring portraits.

Sisters Manobina and Debalina with their daughters, (L-R) Rinki, Yashodhara, Sunayani and Priyadarshini, at J. J. Mehta and Sons studio in Malad, Bombay, c.1950

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. Together, they walked around the city, photographing strangers on the streets, people in Hyde Park and argumentative interlocutors at political meetings. The pursuit of photographing other worlds also marked their travels to Paris, Geneva and Moscow. These works establish that the sisters were accomplished street photographers who, even when they shot the same subjects, were true to their individual styles and sensibilities.

Portrait of grandson Rajsaday Dutta, Calcutta, c.1976 by Debalina Mazumder

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. They published in magazines and shared their images through networks like the Postal Portfolio, thereby reaching peer practitioners and a larger audience. Despite their accomplishments, they never received the recognition they deserved. Not only were they amateur photographers (a practitioner considered inferior to the professional), they were also women. This, however, did not dim their attachment to photography. Debalina, who held office in a number of prestigious photo organisations, believed that if she had pursued photography as a livelihood, the compulsion would have killed her passion for it. This exhibition is a tribute to the spirit of amateurism and the love of photography that the sisters embodied.

Portrait of daughter Aparajita, Bombay, Early 1960s by Manobina Roy

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?

This show exhibits the digital reproductions of the twins’ photographs. The curators have drawn on writings, scholarly research, memoirs, and audio-interviews recorded more than two decades ago. The annotations are derived from the voices of the two photographers as well as members of their family. Please join us in celebrating the photographic adventures and legacy of these two remarkable women.

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