Malavika Karlekar

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year and nine months

Dr Malavika Karlekar's IFA-funded research project on the role of photography in late 19th century Bengal was based on the idea that the newly emerging urban Bengali elite or 'bhadralok' of that period used photography to represent themselves as the embodiments of the social changes of the time. Dr Karlekar, a social anthropologist and fellow at the Centre for Women's Development Studies, New Delhi, felt that a study that used photographs as alternative historical sources might be able to make significant discoveries both about the 19th century bhadralok outlook and about how the bhadralok chose to represent this outlook to and for themselves.

In the manuscript that resulted from the project Dr Karlekar maintains that to read photographs "is to introduce a new dimension to the experience of colonialism in Bengal." She has devoted a substantial portion of her manuscript to the broader history of what she calls `visualising the empire' which connects the introduction of photography into the country in the mid-19 century with earlier traditions of visual representation of India by the British. However, it is the commercial growth of photography that forms the immediate context for the history of photography in Bengal. Dr Karlekar describes the establishment of photographic societies in Bombay and Calcutta, which encouraged an amateur interest in photography and the setting up of studios, where families could have their photographs taken. This greatly contributed to the popularity of photography among a section of the Bengali middle class by the late 19th century. She also devotes a substantial portion of her manuscript to discussing the contribution of three individuals/photographic pioneers — Rajendra Lai Mitra, Maharaja Birchandra of Tripura and Upendrakishore Ray Chaudhuri.

Dr Karlekar independently sent her manuscript to Dr Patricia Uberoi of the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi and Dr Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, professor of history at JNU for their comments. Although the reviews were positive, pointed suggestions were made - especially the question of the democratisation of photography. Dr Karlekar sent her MS along with these evaluations to the Oxford University Press (OUP), indicating to them that she would be re-working it on the basis of the evaluations. OUP sent it to a third reviewer and also got in touch with Dr Uberoi and Dr Bhattacharya. When OUP eventually accepted Dr Karlekar's manuscript fur publication, she approached IFA for a dissemination grant that would help to subsidise publication costs and thereby bring down the selling price of the book. There were several reasons why she felt a subsidy was needed. The manuscript — with 122 photographs — is visual heavy. Moreover, these photographs do not just illustrate the text but are integral to the hook's subject. It is imperative therefore that all the photographs in the MS arc reproduced in the hook and that the book's design and layout enhance the reader's appreciation of the interplay between text and image. After several months of discussion with OUP, it was decided that the book would be priced at Rs 750 and an out-house designed taken on for designing the book. IFA’s grant would cover the expense of hiring this designer and take care of the production costs for 600 copies. OUP’s investment would be in the areas of editing,  typesetting, royalties and overheads, and it would also cover the costs involved in keeping the book alive in the market for two to three years.