About the Project

Visual Histories of Northeast India
Planning Grant

Northeast India remains home to many indigenous communities and has been targeted by India's current political environment. This project includes survey, inventory, copyright and permission determination of two visual materials collections from the region. The first, a photographic collection by photographer Ahmed Hossain, depicts the socio-cultural life of Northeast India's tribal communities between the 1960s-early 2000s. The second collection includes three, 16mm documentaries by the anthropologist, Verrier Elwin who worked in Northeast India from the 1950s-60s.

Project Lead

Aparna Sharma, UCLA

Host Institution


More Information

Hossain’s photographs focus on the eight states that make up India’s northeastern region. This region has for long faced neglect and marginalization, as a result of which historical materials such as the visual media we were surveying has not be appropriately documented; made accessible to a broader public or even just, known. Through this grant we worked closely with the photographer, Ahmad Hossain, who has for over 40 years documented the natural environment, the socio-cultural and political life of the northeastern region. His photographs provide rare insight into the northeastern region in recent decades. They would be of use to anyone interested in exploring the recent history of this region.

Aparna Sharma, Professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA (Project Lead)

Archiving Northeast India's Visual History: Preliminary Approaches and Methods

The MEAP Project Team, led by Aparna Sharma, Ankuran Dutta and Raja Das, have published a report on their preliminary survey work as Lens Lores: Life in a Moment. The full length essay is available online. Below is an except that summarizes the work of the project and contextualizes the inventories available below.

Read Lens Lores: Life in a Moment(opens in a new tab).

Digital Archiving in Northeast India:

Photographs and films bear documentary value for their immediacy, the ability to depict an exact likeness of events and processes in a given place, at a given time (Bazin 2005 (1967), Pinney 1997). As such, these visual media can be seen as constituents of cultural heritage that can aid in writing recent and contemporary histories. Offering depictions, a visible feel of places and peoples, visual media are especially suited to promoting understandings about communities removed from mainstream society. The northeastern states of India are such a region, sparsely known in any serious way to outsiders. While the northeastern region commands diverse ecologies, histories and cultures; an information and perception gap operates in relationship to it. (Sonwalkar 2005 & 2004, Sharma 2015, Baruah 2005) Finding, documenting and making accessible visual media from the region can contribute in advancing historically-sound understandings of the northeast's landscapes and peoples, thus correcting long-standing under- and mis-representations.

Digital technologies offer vast scope for enhancing access to visual media. They can be used to develop archives made available online as open access resources. Online archives of visual media are especially suited to the northeastern region where a lack of institutional support and natural conditions i.e. humid climate, limit access to and pose risks of depletion and loss to historical materials. To be used as reliable documentary evidence, visual media require specialist preservation, documentation and dissemination.

Visual Histories -Ahmad Hossain's Photographic Collection:

In this article we discuss preliminary work undertaken to survey, organise and develop a detailed inventory of one private collection - a body of about 15,000 photographs - focusing on the social and cultural life, natural environment and livelihoods of communities across northeast India. The photographs have been developed by the highly-skilled, Ahmad Hossain, an octogenarian based in Shillong, Meghalaya. Hailing from a well-to-do family, photography has been a passion for Hossain who runs a studio in the heart of Shillong called, Karuz Studios. In a career spanning over 4 decades, Hossain's photography across northeast India has been commissioned and displayed by a number of public agencies. Today, most of his photographs are stored by him privately and they lack an institutional home. Thus, besides being inaccessible to users, they are at high risk of depletion and loss.

We are a group of visual media practitioner-researchers committed to preserving and promoting media that offers a nuanced understanding of the northeastern region, its peoples and the issues they face. To us, Ahmad Hossain's photographic collection developed between the late-1960s and early-2000s offers rare, detailed and remarkable insight into the social and cultural life-worlds as well as the historical changes that communities of the region have undergone since India's independence, 1947. The inventory we have developed documents Hossain's entire body of photographs with a view to facilitate potential digitisation so that these historically significant images maybe preserved and made publicly accessible.

Explore Inventories from Ahmed Hossain's Photography

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