The evolution of visual conventions in Tamil photo portraiture: How should one be seen, over the years? - Producing and Consuming Photography in South Asia (1840-1980)

Abstract : This presentation will address the evolution of the visual rhetoric of Tamil commercial 'ordinary' portrait photography meant for private use, from the end of the 19th century till 1980’s. As a historian, I consider these photographs as traces of an evolving visual culture as well as historical sources providing important information on several aspects of Tamil cultural and social history. In order to provide a concrete tool for the study of Tamil photo portraiture conventions (in other words of what is considered to be a good portrait over the years), I will present a chronologically organised typology of the different visual modes of representation in these portraits. The typology will be based on a careful examination of some objective and visible dimensions in the portraits which progressively get rid of the colonial habitus. This will constitute a basis on which to elaborate a more detailed dating of the photos. The conventions of representation and the symbolic choices are not inconsequential. They are the result of aesthetic and ethical choices, but also of sociological concerns, technical constraints and historical context, which we will introduce. This work is based on the analysis of a set of more than 4000 pictures drawn from a new archive dealing specifically with South Indian portrait photography (STARS Archive).
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Conference papers
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Alexandra de Heering. The evolution of visual conventions in Tamil photo portraiture: How should one be seen, over the years? - Producing and Consuming Photography in South Asia (1840-1980). 25th Conference on European Association on South Asian Studies (ECSAA), 24-27 July 2018, Paris, France, Jul 2018, Paris, France. ⟨hal-02113913⟩

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