Through her lens: a tribute to – Homai Vyarawalla

This is a tribute to India’s first woman photo journalist- Homai Vyarawalla. A woman who fought the odds and was not just noticed but made a name for her in the male dominated world of photo journalism.

She captured the most prominent moments of independent India through her camera lens. Right from the heated debates of partition to the death of Mahatma, and condolence meeting of Jawaharlal Nehru her photograph collections says it all.

The outstanding feature of her photographs was the zest and zeal she managed to capture, a trait that is missing in her successors even today. It is not at all surprising to note that there is nothing much written about her; she remained as an answer in my mind only for the quiz contests till I stumbled upon a book that not only showcased some of her exemplary works but also described her as a fellow being. Simplicity personified , that was Homai. Born into a not so well off Parsi family in Gujarat she was the only girl in her class to clear the matriculation exam.

Her tryst with photography was fuelled by Manekshaw Vyarawalla, whom she married later.  In spite of being a part of the upper echelons of the Indian society  for meetings and conferences and a high profile designation with a leading publication , she still preferred wearing cotton saris to work and elegant silk ones only  to the evening occasions. Simply dressed she pedaled her way through the streets of Delhi carrying her heavy camera for coverage. The husband – wife duo not only made their name in the field of photography but also carved a niche for them.

After dominating the field of press photography for over 3 decades Homai retired from the world of lens and films at the age of 57. She passed away on Jan 15 at the age of 89. It is sad to note that the already not so famous history of photo journalism completely ignored this wonder lady. Homai was awarded National Photo Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2011.

In 2010, Vyarawalla gave her entire collection of prints, negatives, cameras and other memorabilia to the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, New Delhi for safekeeping and documentation. She still holds a prominent place in this field that still eludes women to a great extent.

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