Accepted paper:

The Socialist vision and the photographic eye in the 1940s

Authors:

Sonam Joshi

Paper short abstract:

The paper looks at the intersection of of politics and aesthetics in colonial India during the 1940s through a close reading of the photographs which were published in the newspapers of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Taking a historical approach, it argues that the images of the time were framed and presented through several visual tropes that drew from a international socialist aesthetic. It will also suggest that as photography became a significant part of the political debates within the public sphere, there were several tensions generated in the use of photography – as a visual language to convey political messages.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will explore the intersection of aesthetics and politics by looking at how key historical developments in colonial India during the 1940s came to be represented in photographs of peasants, women and workers, published in the journals and newspapers of the Communist Party of India. The 1940s was a turbulent decade, and the paper focuses on the imagery of the Second World War, the Bengal famine, and subsequent worker, peasant and tribal movements. The images were framed and presented through several visual tropes for depicting workers, peasants and tribals, which celebrated their labour as well as resistance. While focusing on the impact of the famines that spread through Bengal in the early 1940s through images of pathos and suffering, the photographs at the same time glorified worker and peasant politics through images of hope that suggest the possibility of an alternate future. These photographs represented an alternative to the more dominant visual histories of the high politics of independence at a time when photography became a significant part of the political debates within the public sphere. Within this historical context, it will explore the tensions generated by the use of photography as a visual language to convey political messages, and the problem that occurred when visual representations were supplemented by the printed word to convey what was happening at the time. While photography's meanings were often regulated through its placement and relationship with the accompanying text, it will be argued that the process was often one of resistance and negotiation.

panel P52
Vernacular perspectives on arts and aesthetics