Indira Debi (b. 1912; d. 1992)
Among the first Indian female photographers of the twentieth century, Indira Debi was born in a well-known Brahmo family where she and her older sister Mira (Choudhuri) were taught, by their father Dwijendralal Maitra, to take photographs at a young age on a Brownie (No. 2) box camera. Dwijendralal Maitra, who was a doctor at Kolkata’s Mayo Hospital, was also a part of the Bengali literary circles, a close associate of Rabindranath Tagore and a photographer himself. Brahmo families at the time were keen on educating their daughters and photography was seen as an ennobling art for women and therefore a Brahmo Samaj–run institution called Women’s Art Institute was established in 1916.
Given that she had a domestic life, with a parallel “amateur” photographic practice, there are few records about her life and work. In an interview, her sister, Mira, recalls Debi’s particular finesse with tabletop compositions, a form of still life photography where items are arranged on a table or table-like surface. She is also remembered for her abstracts and still lifes; also among her images there is a set of highly stylised portraits of her daughter, Anuradha, in Italy. She is known to have spent time in Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, and being involved in discussions on photography with her young nephew, Mukul Dey, who later went on to become a photographer and an artist renowned for his drypoint etchings. Debi died in 1992 at the age of 80.
Gadihoke, Sabeena. “The Home and Beyond: Domestic and Amateur Photography by Women in India (1930–-1960)”. Sarai Reader 2003: Shaping Technologies. http://archive.sarai.net/files/original/ed793cb1e28c39e9081fc479ff7545f8.pdf
Sengupta, Debjani (tr.). “Zenana Studio: Early Women Photographers of Bengal, from Taking Pictures: The Practice of Photography by Bengalis, by Siddhartha Ghosh”. In Trans Asia Photography Review: In Translation 4, no:2. Spring 2014. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0004.202/–zenana-studio-early-women-photographers-of-bengal?rgn=main;view=fulltext