Images of innocence
"Vintage Vignettes", black and white photographs taken by leading 20th Century photographers Clyne and Perlman, feature on cards brought out by the ICCW to mark its golden jubilee.
A PICTURE, it is said, is worth a thousand words. The 19th Century photographs, perhaps the first ever taken of Indian girls, are a collector's item, affording a tantalising peep into our roots. They feature pretty South Indian maidens wearing velvet `pavadais', with ruby `adigais' like those one inherits from grandmother, `bullakus' in their noses, elaborate `thalai' samaan, and enormous `gollusus' which could double as necklaces today!
Wearing paavadai daavanis or bunched up pleated saris with huge temple borders, they pose shyly or playfully, with the coltish unconscious grace of nubile womanhood, their luminous beauty imprinted forever in black and white.
Unveiled for the first time in the country, reproductions of these priceless `Vintage vignettes' form the visuals on a series of cards brought out by the Indian Council of Child Welfare to mark its golden jubilee celebrations in 2003. The proceeds from the sale will go towards supporting need-based, issue-focussed projects of the ICCW, Tamil Nadu, a non-government organisation, working for disadvantaged children in the State since 1953.
Working with a holistic philosophy, which touches every area and aspect of a child's life, the ICCW's activities include intervention and prevention of child abuse and neglect, elimination of child labour in the match and beedi industries, elimination of female infanticide, prevention of child beggary in the city, intervention programmes to enrol working children in schools in Chennai, crèches, residential rehabilitation for challenged and destitute children, training centres for child care workers, information documentation and research as well as Childline, a 24-hour free helpline in Chennai.
As Andal Damodaran, general secretary of the ICCW, puts it: "There are so many new needs of children that we have to meet. Earlier, these were basic needs; nutrition, health, survival. Today, we are starting a new project, a half-way home for physically and sexually abused children who need a lot of counselling and special care before they can be shifted to their families... ." For all the projects, money is a major concern and through the sale of cards children of the past will join hands in helping children of the present to make their childhood a `time of innocence, discovery and wonder... .'.
How were the hauntingly beautiful photographs resurrected? From a tin trunk belonging to the nanny of the Clyne and Perlman family, leading photographers at the turn of the 20th Century. Unearthed in the British nanny's Coonoor cottage by photographer and journalist Harry Miller, the photographs later changed hands and became part of the `Vintage Vignettes' collection, owned by a group of five enthusiastic Chennai collectors. From there to the ICCW cards was a natural progression for the five photographs, which literally evoke the saying `Times change but childhood doesn't... .' and so too, the right of every child to this special time. The cards are available at the city's leading bookshops, and art and crafts boutiques, as well as at Shilpi and Contemporary Arts and Crafts.
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