06 May, 2021

Diachronic Lenses

New initiatives cast light on the lost worlds in old family photos

Diachronic Lenses

Dressed in a gown and heels, her defined features framed by a chic hairdo, Chhobi Ghosh cuts a fine figure. And one frowned upon, too: in 1930s Calcutta, the daughter-in-law of a respectable family couldn’t be seen on the terrace, forget playing muse to the camera there, clad in Western clothes. Standing on the same terrace some seventy years later, a nonagenarian Ghosh studies the photograph with fondness and delight. “My husband took these photos, which he kept hidden. They were for our eyes only. We’d go up to the terrace while the household was still asleep,” she smiles, patting an album spilling over with similar secret shots, in Nishtha Jain’s recently released documentary, Family Album.

The film weaves its way in and out of photographs (some of them a hundred years old) preserved by a handful of families in Calcutta. Anecdotes abound, revealing prevailing social mores and their often subtle but plucky divergences: a bobbed mop of hair stands out among a collection of conforming plaits in the...

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