Are Portraits Good to Think? Reflections of Tamil Studio Portraiture

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“Are Portraits Good to Think? Reflections of Tamil Studio Portraiture”

Dr. Zoe E. Headley, IFP-CEIAS/CNRS

CHANGE OF DATE: 16th April 2015 (Thursday) at 11.00 am

IFP Talk Series
Nehru Conference Hall ,French Institute of Pondicherry
11, Saint Louis Street,Pondicherry 605 001

Following up with the on-going exhibition Heritage of the Family: Tamil Studio Portraiture (1880 – 1980), the purpose of this talk is to explore the various research questions which emerge from a closer examination of tamil studio portraiture. Plagiarising Levi-Strauss’s famous formulation, commercially produced family portraits will be explored in terms of various ways in which they “are good to think”. This line of enquiry is justified by the fact that the visual rhetoric of South Indian family portraiture as well as the social history of Tamil commercial studio photography has almost completely failed –so far- to attract the attention of academia. Reflecting from both inside and outside the frame, questions regarding the conditions of production of family portraits in the context of later decades of the 19th century, the consequences of the introduction of images in Tamil households as well as their potential engagement with vernacular categories of individuality and personhood, as well as that of interiority and exteriority, will be raised.


Please note that the exhibition “Heritage of the Family: Tamil Studio Portraiture (1880 – 1980)” on the outer wall of IFP (Goubert Avenue, Beach road) is extended until the 12th of April.

Contact: Dr. Zoe E. Headley (

Another way to put it…with Pondy ART


Rewind to family photographs before the selfie era: Pout, pose, click and apply Instagram filter — taking a selfie today is a matter of seconds. Not so long ago, getting one’s photograph was a big deal, which meant dressing up to the nines and walking up to the studio at the centre of the town or waiting patiently for the studio photographer to set up his paraphernalia. The pre-selfie era of family photographs is recorded on the rear wall of the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), which has turned into an interesting spot to hang out this month, with passers-by and visitors intrigued by the black- and-white exhibition on the wall. Organised by the institute and Pondy Art, the ‘Heritage of Family — Tamil Studio portraiture’ chronicles sepia tinted photographs from 1880 to 1980, of families in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. As amusing as it is to observe forbidding glances and stately bearings of people in the photographs, they are also a trove of information on society, culture and fashion of the period.a trove of information on society, culture and fashion of the period.

Olympia Shilpa Gerald

“Right up Your Rue” THE HINDU