• Sepia Stories: Homai Vyarawalla on World Photography Day

    Homai Vyarawalla (9 December 1913 – 15 January 2012) was India’s first woman photojournalist. On World Photography Day remembering her pathbreaking efforts in capturing history in the footnotes of time with her charming cameras. As India Today said about her – “In the years and months leading up to India’s historic transition to Independence, Homai Vyarawalla was almost as famous as the great leaders and events she chronicled on film.”


    Born at Navsari in south Gujarat in a Parsi family in December 1913, Vyarawala had her education in Mumbai and moved to Delhi in 1942. She was involved in publishing a series of photographs of important events during the pre-Independence days and so soon became a well known face in the country. The former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was one of her favourite subjects and Vyarawala captured some candid moments. Vyarawala’s biographer would later note in the Time Magazine that she may have received little global attention than her foreign contemporaries. “For years her vast archive chronicling three decades of Indian history received less attention than the Indian work of her international contemporaries, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Margaret Bourke-White.” In 1956 Vyarawala captured the first entry of a young Dalai Lama into India for TIME-LIFE.



    Vyarawala’s interest in photography was kindled by her husband’s passion, which he indulged it in spare time. She picked up her husband’s Rolleiflex, which was presented to him by a friend. Much later, she also used the Speedgraphic. Most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13″. The reasons behind her choice of this rather amusing name were that her birth year was 1913, she met her husband at the age of 13 and her first car’s number plate read “DLD 13″.


    In 1970, shortly after her husband’s death, Homai Vyarawalla decided to give up photography lamenting over the “bad behaviour” of the new generation of photographers. And she reportedly said:

    “It was not worth it any more. We had rules for photographers; we even followed a dress code. We treated each other with respect, like colleagues. But then, things changed for the worst. They [the new generation of photographers] were only interested in making a few quick bucks; I didn’t want to be part of the crowd anymore.”

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