The Studio by Tara Laure Claire (AKA Tara Sood)

The Studio is a ongoing personal series started in 2020 by Tara Laure Claire.

The reality of India, before personal cameras became widespread, is sparsely documented by the local lens. Photography was mainly an instrument of record-keeping: a utilitarian tool. And yet, there was a well-established photographic culture with generational impact, with little studios on every village corner. These were run by artists and storytellers in their own right, who accumulated vast archives of personas of the living and dead. 

 Specialising in family portraits, or grand souvenirs for couples, or for immortalising moments in time, these studios were created to forever preserve a state of mind, an everlasting commitment, a fantasy, a loss, a memory, or an aspiration. The owner possessed a repertoire of props and costumes, and knew how to anticipate the styles and preferences of their clients - as these were also their friends and neighbours - from the same village, in the same India. 

 With colour photography an unaffordable luxury, black and white photos were often painted over with inks and oil paints. If a subject wanted to look more affluent, gold earrings were painted in, and the saris adorned with flicks of a brush.

 This series is a homage to the playful, theatrical, performative and aspirational nature of these studio portraits. It’s an archive of small-town and rural characters embellished by the magic of camera and hand-artistry. I wanted to draw the viewer back to an age when subjects would come to the studio to live out their dreams: to become their favourite actors, wear clothes they’d never typically wear, or make a grand gesture of love towards their spouse or family. So that no matter how much time passed, one glance at these pictures recalled an everlasting dream.

 It’s important for me to represent Indian culture faithfully, without the fetishisation of ‘otherness’ often depicted in the Western eye as cacophony, poverty, exoticism and clashing colour combinations. What ‘faithful’ truly means is an artistic ideal that I have far from mastered: I’m constantly striving to develop and progress ‘faithfulness’ in my work, while balancing it with the fantastical and the hyper-real. Suffice it to say, for me it’s about the representation of a worldview - a consciousness - grounded in place and time. One that’s often hidden beneath a veil of overindulgent imagery and sensationalist factoids. This is an ode to South Asian artistry and positivity: forces of foundational influence on the cultural legacy of our species.

Often, the criteria that compare cultures are nothing more than how things are ordered: garbage in its place. Paving stones where they should be. Animals tucked away in rural farms rather than roaming the streets. I do not believe that disorder is the only way to understand the art and beauty of a culture like Bharat (India.) To go beyond, we must more clearly see how deeply art penetrates everyday life - and everyday life penetrates art.

Sign up to our weekly newsletter

Stay in the loop