Photographic Practices of Mela in North India
Informal Savoir-faire and Composite Images

In North India, melas (meaning “gathering” or “fair” in Sanskrit), have been integral to harvest seasons, religious festivals, the trade economy and mobility culture since the 16th or 17th century. This article focuses on the practices of improvised photographic studios since the beginning of the 20th century in itinerant, informal and periodic bazaars, which have played an important part in the creation and consumption of photographic images. Based on a series of interviews, the article analyses the role and methods of the mela photographers who invented new forms of images with the help of visual tricks and hand-painting. It examines also how the fairground practices of ‘trick photography’ and composite images unsettled the photographic medium’s veracity as well as contested and challenged the social hierarchies within accepted photographic representations, through the politics of satire and play. In the post-Independence era (the 1950s), these practices allowed for the emergence of new ways of seeing and of affirming the identities of citizens, regardless of their social class and background.

Khizar Ahmed, Excursion à Sangam, photographie prise lors du numaish d’Aligarh, 1973, image composite, tirage argentique, 7,8 x 10,9 cm. Vancouver, collection de l’auteure. © Nadeem Khan and Saleem Ahmad Khan, Aligarh

Sameena Siddiqui is a PhD candidate and SRSF doctoral fellow at the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory, University of British Columbia, Canada. She received her M.Phil. from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, and has presented her research work in several international conferences and residencies. In the United States, her dissertation research won the MFAH Joan and Stanford Alexander Dissertation Award in 2021.

Citation: Sameena Siddiqui, « Les pratiques photographiques dans les mela. Savoir-faire informel et images composites en Inde du Nord », Transbordeur. Photographie histoire société, no. 7, 2023, pp. 62-73.

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