May 1, 2013

Women Grinding Paint, Daguerreotype Photograph - Calcutta (Kolkata) c1845

Although the original paper mat on the verso of this daguerreotype is inscribed "Women Grinding Paint," the subjects could be performing one of any number of tasks: grinding indigo, for example, or beetlenut, or spices for curry. All that is certain is that the man in the turban to the right is a follower of the god Shiva, the sustainer-dissolver of the universe. Holy ash, or "bhasma," marks his forehead, while around his neck is a "mala" of "rudraksha" beads, sacred to Shiva. It seems likely that the photographer moved the group outside from a workshop nearby, carefully posing them in the shaft of sunlight that emerged through the slatted canopy. The setting--a quiet alley free of human, animal, or commercial distractions--is artificial even for India in the 1840s. The isolation of the figures, however, together with the respectful, low position of the camera, was employed by the photographer to great advantage.



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