This exhibition features photographs taken by well-known Indian photographer Pranlal Patel. Depicting women at work in the homes, neighborhoods, and markets of Ahmedabad, India, in 1937, these images—many of which are on view for the first time—were commissioned by the Jyoti Sangh, a philanthropy dedicated to women’s advocacy, support, and vocational training organization. Lisa Trivedi’s research focuses on the seldom-explored history of women in the workforce in early twentieth-century India.
Refocusing the Lens also examines the early history of photography in India and the role of amateur photographers like Patel. Patel’s approach was noteworthy because he shot in the field rather than in the studio; the resulting images offer an unprecedented documentary view of Indian society. Furthermore, Patel focused upon a subject rarely photographed in India at this time: working-class women. Capturing ordinary aspects of these women’s lives and the enterprises through which they survived, the photographs are important as material products of both philanthropy and photography of the era. They are also important historical artifacts unto themselves, as they were conceived, shaped, and created by women philanthropists, an amateur photographer, and the working women who participated in the photographic process.