A Gujarati family at the studio of Jehangir S. Tarapore - Pitt Rivers Museum

Tarapore 2Archive case

A Gujarati family at the studio of Jehangir S. Tarapore

9 September 2013 – 5 January 2014

Jehangir Tarapore was a Parsi man of Mumbai (Bombay) who ran a successful photo studio on the Kalbadevi Road in the early twentieth century. We know very little about his career, although the Museum has recently made contact with the well-known Parsi photographer and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, whose family were close to Jehangir. His portraits of her family members from the early twentieth century still adorn many of the walls in their home in Mumbai.

Tarapore 3The eight superb mounted platinum prints by Tarapore displayed here are part of a set of seventeen in the Museum’s collection, all relating to one extended Gujarati family, identified as such from their style of dress. They include single portraits, pairs, and small and large groups, all of which seemingly celebrate different relationships and kin connections within the extended family. We think that the family’s name was Dave (pronounced Dah-veh) since this word is found pencilled on the back of several of the mounts. Present in most of the portraits is a man wearing a European-style suit, who may well be the one who commissioned the portraits. He is photographed alone, as well as with his sons or wife, and with family groups.

We do not know why the portraits were taken or even how such a large set of portraits of the same family came to the Museum, since no donation information is recorded with them. TTarapore 4hey have certainly been in the Museum since the late 1970s when they were first listed in the accession register. The Museum’s first Curator, Henry Balfour (1863-1939), mentions in the diary of his visit to India that he was in the vicinity of Kalbadevi Road in January 1923, vividly describing the ‘densely-crowded, narrow streets in this part of Bombay, with the walls covered with names + advertisements’, but it is not known if he purchased any photographs from Tarapore’s studio at that time. The prints probably date to before the First World War since platinum then became prohibitively expensive for studios to use.

Commissioning such a large set of platinum prints would have been costly, and when displayed in the family home would have been a conspicuous expression of wealth and status, as well as a visual affirmation of important familial bonds.

Display curated by Christopher Morton

Design by Jon Eccles

With thanks to Clare Harris and Sooni Taraporevala