ndian photographer Pranlal K. Patel (b. 1910-2014) was known for the wide range of subjects he captured in the course of seventy years as an active photographer. In 1937, Patel was approached by Ahmedabad’s Jyoti Sangh, a Gujarati women’s social reform organization, which hired him to photograph women engaged in a variety of economic activities that supported the growing city’s life. Refocusing the Lens: Pranlal K. Patel’s Photographs of Women at Work in Ahmedabad provides unprecedented insight into the lives of working-class women as they performed a range of labor activities inside their homes as well as within the city’s neighborhoods and its major markets. Challenging the archival view of women’s work as limited to the domestic sphere, isolated, and sex-segregated, Patel’s photographs reveal a complex labor landscape in which women worked alongside men in textile production, small businesses, and manual labor.
Refocusing the Lens examines the role of amateur photographers like Patel in the context of the history of twentieth-century Indian photography. A primary school teacher at the time these photographs were taken, Patel was a self-taught hobbyist who supplemented his income by photographing social functions for middle-class and elite society. The commission by the Jyoti Sangh, with its aim to uplift the city’s women and expand the public roles for Gujarati women during the nationalist struggle, led Patel to develop a distinct approach to documenting his adopted city. Carefully observing his subjects in their environment before returning to fix their images in his preferred light, Patel created an extraordinary record of the city’s life through his unflinching portraits of ordinary women.
A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Lisa Trivedi, associate professor of history, and interview with the artist will accompany the exhibition.