Jehangir N Unwalla (b. 1896, d. 1963)
Working mostly in the pictorialist style, Jehangir N Unwalla was one of the few Indian photographers in pre-independent India to receive international attention and acclaim.
Unwalla was the co-founder of the Camera Pictorialists of Bombay, a camera club established for the promotion of pictorialism in 1932. Besides Unwalla, other founding members of the club were FR Ratnagar, Li Gotami, DS Bottlewala, SL Khambata, NJ Nalawalla and Karl Khandalvala. He was also the president of the Amateur Cine Society, which was founded in 1935 and the Photographic Society of India, Bombay from 1947–48. He was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of London in 1952.
While he practised photography from his studio in Tardeo, Mumbai, Unwalla argued for the recognition of photography as an art form in his writing. He was featured in the landmark 1960 Marg issue on photography, which traced the changing trends in modern photographic practice in India. He was also instrumental in organising the Images of India exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai in 1960; the exhibition was inspired by the influential Family of Man photography exhibition put up by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1955, which had travelled globally in the following eight years.
Unwalla’s writings argued against the urge to simply document through photography, which he saw as mechanistic. Instead, he believed that a photographer must transfer their own emotions and feelings onto the subject they photograph. This philosophy is reflected in his oeuvre, which mostly comprises portraits, usually gently lit, with the gaze of the subject turned away from the camera.
A number of his photographs are held in the Allan Chasanoff Photographic Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Unwalla was recognised by the generation succeeding him as one of the country’s most important pictorialist photographers, and his work went on to inspire well-known photographers such as KG Maheshwari and OP Sharma. The latter also organised a tribute to Unnwala at the Triveni Kala Sangam in the 1960s.
Unwalla passed away in 1963.
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