Endangered Archives

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EAP737: Representing Self and Family. Preserving early Tamil studio photography

This pilot project will document and preserve Tamil studio photography, and therefore family portraiture, since its appearance in the mid-late 19th century up until the introduction of mechanised developing and printing, which radically transformed the practices and productions of studio photography.

Photography arrived in India in the 1840s, and the first photographic society in South India was created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, the constraints and costs of acquiring photographic equipment meant that photography was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s medium size towns, and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. In South India, prior to the arrival of commercial photography, there existed no local forms of popular portraiture aside from the representations of divinities. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families, combining the uses of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage, montage.

There is a real urgency in preserving these photographs. Many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of deterioration due to some of the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic productions. The climatic conditions of South India are extremely detrimental for photographic prints and negatives, even for those printed from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. With the advent of mechanised processing and printing followed by the digital revolution in photography, many of the old photo studios have closed down and their archives of glass-plate negatives and film negatives have been destroyed, either through lack of interest or space to conserve them. Families themselves have started discarding the portraits of the older generations. Although important and interesting Indian photo archives exist both in India and abroad, no archive of popular family portraiture has ever been constituted.

A survey report will be produced of the early commercial photo studios in eight target towns and a preliminary sample of photographs, negatives and glass plates will be digitised.

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EAP737/4: Vasen Studio [1952-1989]

"This collection contains the complete photographic archive of Vasen Studio Karaikudi. The photographic material includes glass-plates, film negatives, prints and glass-mounted slides. The photographic material is dated between between 1952 and 1989. The archive was stored in 31 boxes, mostly original glass-plate and film-negative boxes and kept in various location in the youngest son's household (kitchen and attic). These have been segregated into 7 series: Outdoor portraits (59 images), Miscellaneous shots (77 images), Events (191 images), studio portrait (558 images), adverstisement (07 images), cinema posters (15 images). The original location (i.e. box) of each image is reflected at the file level as well as in each digital file name. The founder of the Vasan studio ""Mr. S.K. Srinivasan's"" elder son Mr. Ravindren, age 56 years (date of birth 01-03-1960) was able to provide additional information for some images regarding personal names, locations and dates which are included. Date of original material: [1952- [1989]. The dates were given by Mr Ravindran, eldest son of the founder of Vasen studio who began working with his father at the age of 14. The dates are therefore approximate. "

EAP737/4/4: Studio Portrait [20th century]

EAP737/4/4/31: Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

Extent: 24 TIFF images
Level: File
Scope and Content: This file contains 24 Studio Portrait photographic prints from of the Vasen Studio archive.
Owner French Institute of Pondichery, 1955-
Creator Rajkumar Vasen Studio, 1947-
Language(s) Not applicable
Script(s) Not applicable
Legal & Ethical Usage Policy Access is for research purposes only