Old Indian Photos

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.

Source: metmuseum.org

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