Tara Laure Claire on India’s Beauty and Emotionality

Digging into the old tradition of studio photographs, Tara Laure Claire revisits the classic photo method with a modern twist, while delving into India’s authentic identity.

The traditional photo-studio shops, where Tara Laure Claire’s work The Studio takes off, were places from another time, where moments of ordinary life and fantasy, for a brief while, collided. The studios played a role in the life of Indian communities, fixing in time vivid depictions of people's lives.

With her work, winner of the PhMuseum 2023 Photography Grant's First Prize, Laure Claire taps into an intimate sense for authenticity by reviving the work of these traditional photo-studios, a cornerstone of Indian culture from the previous century, now lost to the modern day. Through revisiting this early heritage, she pays homage to Indian culture and identity, features of her motherland sometimes misconstrued by the western gaze. “The idea about this project was a lost culture, the lost art of these photo studios, that seems to be fading in India,” she says. 

The images created in the studios were ambrotypes, popular in the 1850s and 1860s, which consisted of an underexposed glass negative put against a black backdrop that was afterwards manually painted with brushes of color or gold to increase their value. They were once used as gifts or mementos—to remember milestones, commemorate marriages, even to share grief and sorrow—different moments of life rendered permanent yet transitory. If the posers weren't wealthy enough to display their own possessions—jewelry, expensive clothes—those would be painted over the image, adding value to both the artifact and the moment in time.  “It relies on fantasy,” Laure Claire says, explaining how everyone would put on their best selves when they came to the studios. “It's a lovely part of Indian culture, the way the community is so important, the way people interact… It reminds us that we need to be close to one another and that happiness is better shared.”

To bring these pictures with hand-painted details and vibrant backdrops back to life, she utilizes film and darkroom printing processes—with a modern touch. She focuses on staged settings and portraits, employing a contemporary style influenced by fashion photography while addressing cultural and identitarian issues. The Studio bridges these worlds—which are also her worlds, growing up in France, across Europe, and in India—by presenting "a different glance at [India]'s reality," while contrasting stereotyped images based on clichéd themes of chaos, poverty, and cacophony, popular in the West.

What Laure Claire sees as a Southeast Asian artist differs from what Westerns see: in the latter, a charged distance between the subject and the photographer remains unresolved. “This project is an ode to Indian artistry, beautiful aspects of India that never get seen or heard because people don't know about it,” too clouded in preconceptions to appreciate India’s progress beyond the status of a third-world nation, she says.  She also highlights features of a modern generation that puts freedom of expression and sexuality at the forefront. Seen from behind, a man displays a hole in his pants that captures our attention; a girl in a suggestive stance is no longer intimidating or condemned. Laure Claire’s intent is “to cross a couple lines,” expose people to a different perspective on South Asians,“show how much freedom of expression there is because this is what these photo studios were all about,” she adds.

The recurrent pattern of a frame within the photographs is also reflective of Laure Claire’s whimsical sense of performance, serving as a reminder that all images are staged and that both the sitter and photographer intentionally participate in their creation. “It's about this playful atmosphere that Indian culture has,” she says.  “It doesn't make sense, for me, to make a project about my country without wanting to dig deeper into its emotionality, because India's such a beautiful, spiritual, complex country and it doesn't always get what it deserves.” 

With The Studio, Laure Claire brings back such emotionality—that beauty, complexity, and spirituality now to the forefront, with a nod to the past and an openness to her present.

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All photos © Tara Laure Claire, from the series The Studio

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Tara Laure Claire Sood is a Franco-Indian photographer and filmmaker based between London and Paris. Find their work on PhMuseum.

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© Tara Laure Claire

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© Tara Laure Claire

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© Tara Laure Claire

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© Tara Laure Claire

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© Tara Laure Claire

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