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History through the lens

In her upcoming presentation at Fundação Oriente, Panaji, professor Rosa Maria Perez will throw light on a little known

photo studio and an equally unknown photographer, and how he contributed in understanding a Goan  history and culture that has not been previously documented. NT BUZZ  speaks with Perez to  know more

CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ

Photographs tell a story. It is not just about the documenting of an event, these also serve as a visual record of the time, and the various details captured often only enrich this story further. And it is precisely this – stories of Goa from the 1950s to 70’s that come to light in the collection of photographs by Foto Estúdio Ganesh acquired by Fundação Oriente and kept at its museum in Lisbon some years ago. Having gotten onboard the project of analysing and classifying these photographs about three years ago, professor Rosa Maria Perez is now all set to share her insights at her January 16 presentation ‘Photography and Memory: An Anthropological Approach to a Goan Studio’, which will be held at Fundação Oriente, Panaji.

A professor of the department of anthropology of ISCTE – University of Lisbon Institute, Perez is currently a scholar-in-residence at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, where since 2011 she has been a visiting professor (Anthropology).

“When I was invited to look at this collection, all signed as Ganesh, I found these very interesting. The photographs were captured by Krishna Navelcar, who was the brother of the great painter Vamona Navelcar. However, just like Vamona who sometimes used to sign his artworks as Ganesh in tribute to a late brother, Krishna also did likewise,” says Perez.

However, when Perez began enquiring about this photographer in Goa, nobody seemed to know about him or about the studio.

“Later on I met his daughter through a friend and learned more about this late photographer. She still has some of his photographs and letters but the studio which was located at Rua José Falcão, near the Church Square in Panaji does not exist any longer,” says Perez. And while the Lisbon museum has acquired two of his cameras, the daughter still has a few of his devices and some documents which Perez found to be of crucial importance in Goan history.

“To me, he has done a very important contribution to the analysis of Goan society of the late period of Portuguese colonialism in India and then post Goa’s integration into India, which is not written or only written from a single perspective,” she says, adding that the photographs of the 1950s in particular are important as the dominant narrative available of this time was the official one written by the
Portuguese.

Elaborating further on how the photographs disclose aspects of Goan society that were not captured by other records, Perez states that as per the official version the Portuguese were said to have been unprepared for Operation Vijay launched by the Indian army to free Goa from colonial rule on December 18, 1961. “However, based on these photographs and documents which tell of correspondence between this photographer and the director of archives in Portugal, it becomes clear that the Portuguese were in fact pretty aware of Nehru’s decision following years of failed negotiations with Salazar,” says Perez.

 The photographer also captured images of sculptures and coins which no longer exist in Goa or Lisbon today, she adds.

Perez does admit though that classifying and analysing these photographs was a strenuous task, as many had been damaged with time and weather factors. Also, only a few of these were dated. “While for some images it is easy to identify the period, sometimes I have tried to date these approximately according to the envelopes used for these, as the envelopes changed over the years. I have also classified the images based on the name of the studio, which changed from a Portuguese to an English one, and by the stamp used,” she says.

Fundação Oriente is now planning on organising an exhibition of these photographs in 2021 in Lisbon. “When one thinks of photographs of Goa of the early years, one immediately thinks of Souza and Paul photo studio. But there were unknown photographers who contributed to the local history and understanding of local society,” she says. “Hopefully, this collection will open the door to other studios that are now closed or also private and family collections that will be crucial to tell a story that has not been written
so far.”

(‘Photography and Memory: An Anthropological Approach to a Goan Studio’, a presentation by professor Rosa Maria Perez will be held on January 16 at Fundação Oriente, Panaji, 6 p.m. onwards. It is open to all.)

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