Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs

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University of Chicago Press, 1997 - Photography - 240 pages
A wedding couple gazes resolutely out at the viewer from the wings of a butterfly, a commemorative portrait of a deceased boy surrounded by rose petals - such moving and quiet images represent the changing role of photographic portraiture in India, a topic Christopher Pinney explores in Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs. Studying photographic practice as it is embedded in Indian society over the last 100 years, Pinney, an anthropologist, traces the various purposes and goals of photography through colonial and postcolonial times. Pinney identifies three key moments In Indian portraiture: the use of photography as a quantifiable instrument of measurement under British rule, the role of portraiture in moral instruction, and the current visual style of popular culture and its effects on modes of picturing. Photographic culture thus becomes a mutable realm in which capturing likeness is only part of the project. Today, Indian images are characterized by a distinctive postcolonial photographic practice, which involves sophisticated inventiveness and techniques such as overpainting, collage, composite printing and doubling. Contemporary portraits that showcase these techniques rely as well on elaborate backdrops and props such as motorbikes to construct an endless variety of identities, challenging the prior use of photography as documentation and description. Pinney's account of these changes in portraiture from depiction to invention is accompanied by 127 photographs, and his sensitive analysis uncovers the links between these intriguing images and the society from which they emerge.

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About the author (1997)

Christopher Pinney is professor of anthropology and visual culture at University College London. He has held positions at the Australian National University, the University of Chicago, the University of Cape Town, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Northwestern University.

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