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A discussion was initiated among a group of young people with dark skin colour. Most of these people had complexities about their dark complexion. For some, it was a childhood memory and has recovered from it. We discussed the use of fairness cream and the obsession with white skin in Indian society. The argument started with the fact that last year, the market for fairness cream was Rs. 3000 crore in India. (According to Economic Times: "India is supposedly fascinated by three Gs — Ganga, Gandhi and Gora. One is far from pure now, the other present principally in spirit and on currency notes, but it's the last that has catapulted into Rs 3000 crore commercial business". : Shephali Bhatt, ET Bureau Feb 26, 2014, 08.00 AM IST)

The responses were interesting. Discrimination in terms of colour still prevails in our country; most people think it is derived from the colonial past of this nation. The group I was discussing with were in the age group of 20 to 30, and they also had a notion that it originated from our colonial past. They also think that in our society/ public sphere, it has a role in power demonstration; thus, it is related to discrimination. They believe there is a simple equation: fairer people = beautiful people= powerful people. Some of them said that historically, it has been denominated like that, and it is true that these people have suffered as they are black. As a result, they all tried to be fairer at times. They also informed me that most of them have used fairness cream but were disappointed. Some people have refused to take part in this discussion.


After this discussion, I told them about the wet plate collodion process, that this is the method which has been used in anthropological documentation of colonial India in the 19th century. I also informed them that they were using Iodides and bromides of silver, which are not sensitive to red and yellow but sensitive to blue and UV light; the Indian with more yellow hue skin will be black in the photograph they were not.

I explained the process and asked them how they wanted to be photographed in the wet plate collodion process. Some of them thought using instant whitening powder, and some did nothing; some even applied 'Multani mitti'. I offered them to direct me how they wanted their photograph so that they looked beautiful. Some wanted to exaggerate the notion and applied excessive talc on their face.

After that, there was a long session of making ambrotype photographs with my 10" X12" wooden plate camera. 







Arpan Mukherjee is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department in the Department of Graphic Art (Printmaking) at Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati. He is an interdisciplinary artist and a pioneer in reviving historical photographic processes as an integral part of contemporary practices. For the last two decades, he has extensively researched and documented 19th-century methods and materials to explore the possibilities of ‘alternative photography’, developing mediums like gum dichromate, salt print, wet plate collodion, homemade silver gelatin emulation, etc., according to Indian climatic conditions. Using his research, documentation and experimentation as a tool for his artistic expression, Professor Mukherjee pushes the limits of contemporary photography. He has participated in several international and national exhibitions and workshops and has delivered lectures and conducted workshops on photographic printmaking and its histories. Most recently, in 2023, he researched and made modern albumen and salt print copies of 19th-century archaeological photographs in collaboration with the British Library and CSMVS, Mumbai. He also co-founded Studio Goppo, a photography research studio in Santiniketan.

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