National Camera Day

When a little birdie said that today is National Camera Day (err… don’t ask which Nation) a photo that I wanted to share for a while topped the list of options for a photo to commemorate this day. 

In today’s world of these, “days” for just about everything under the Earth AND hashtags to boot why should National Camera Day be left in the lurch! 

So here is a self-portrait (rejoice all ye selfie queens) of Annapurna Dutta c. 1920




Who was Annapurna Dutta you may ask, and to quickly answer that, I quote Siddhartha Ghosh :

“Annapurna Dutta, a Bengali photographer, appeared on the scene in the 1920s. Although she was not the first professional woman photographer, she was the first to enjoy a long career in photography and to earn her living from it. I heard of Annapurna Dutta from Kalyan Saha and his wife, Namita Saha. They had regaled me with stories about the exploits of their “artist aunt” who would appear with her camera for every family function. It was they who gave me the name of Annapurna Dutta’s son Amarendranath Dutta, who was the proprietor of Allied Engineers in Bidhan Sarani.

I learned all the details about Annapurna Dutta’s life from her son.

Before divulging that history, I must mention a self-portrait of the artist that is an important and significant addition to this work. The artist had “sauce-finished” the portrait, which now hung on a wall of her son’s room. The photograph reminded me of Kumudini of Jogajog and all the other pioneer women whose names we now know. In it Annapurna stands beside an old-fashioned plate camera. Holding the lens cap in her right hand, the photographer is perhaps looking at her subject. Under a magnifying glass, I could faintly discern the name of the camera seller: Babaji Sakharam and Sons, whose establishment was at 86-88 Loharam Street, Bombay.

Annapurna was born in 1894. Her father was a professor of philosophy and a writer. When she was twelve, Annapurna was married to Upendranath Dutta, a lawyer. Her husband was keen on photography and was a painter. It is surely from him that Annapurna became interested in photography. She began working as a professional photographer between 1930 and 1940. She did not open a studio; rather, she worked from home. She developed, printed, and finished her photographs herself and I saw a number of her glass-plate negatives in Amarendranath’s collection.

Annapurna was a welcome visitor to many well-to-do Muslim homes. The politician and Bengal’s premier Hasan Suhrawardy, Jasimuddin the poet, and the singer Abbas Uddin Ahmed were admirers of her art. A photograph of Sarojini Naidu, an Indian nationalist leader, carries the signature “Mrs. A. Dutta.” In it Naidu is reclining on a sofa, a fresh garland beside her. The leader must have just returned from a public meeting.

Annapurna Dutta died in 1976, at the age of eighty-two.”

Have a Happy National Camera Day!

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