An Ambassador car decorated for a wedding with a net strung with fresh flowers in Jodhpur Park, Kolkata, 1998 (Laura McPhee)

“Many of the portraits of this book are of the vendors and hawkers who go past my house every day, shouting out their wares…Laura’s camera transforms and empowers these all-too-familiar figures; it is clear from the pictures that they have asserted control over how they are depicted. They are not ‘captured’ by the camera; with the photographer’s help they have established a bond with the camera; they are giving it a gift, an offering.”-Amitav Ghosh.

That is the foreword to Laura McPhee‘s newly released book The Home and the World: A View of Calcutta (Yale University Press), given by renowned Indian writer Amitav Ghosh. McPhee’s book is a loving portrait of the former capital of India, its architecture that remembers its history while embracing its future, its residents that line the streets, selling goods, tailoring dresses, delivering cargo.

Each morning McPhee carried a large Dussendorf camera (a box-like thing first used in the 19th century), and with her her assistant would set it up facing the streets of Calcutta (now called Kolkata). As people walked by and she struck up a conversation, she would ask or they would offer to be photographed, and in a conscious effort to dissolve the line separating subject from photographer, McPhee would invite the subject to look through the viewfinder and position themselves as they would like to be photographed. The exchange immediately transferred a balance of power, allowing the subject to impact how they would be remembered.

With her thoughtful portraits, McPhee’s collection of images also focus on the rich architecture of India and the juxtaposition of traditional and modern buildings, reflecting the country’s story of colonization to independence to present day.


Rickshaw driver Dilip Das in Jodhpur Park, Kolkata, 1998. (Laura McPhee)

South City Towers from Udayan, and The Condoville, in Kolkata, 2013. (Laura McPhee)

Offerings at Dari Ka Bhavan, North Kolkata, 2009. (Laura McPhee)

Portraits of classical musicians who performed at the Monmoth Ghosh House, North Kolkata. (Laura McPhee)

Street performer with two monkeys, Jodhpur Park, Kolkata, 1998. (Laura McPhee)

Fists of the goddess Kali, destroyer of evil, Kali Temple, Howrah, Kolkata, 2005. (Laura McPhee)

Dutta House at Chorebagan (Thieves’ Garden), North Kolkata. (Laura McPhee)

Tinku Paul drives daughters Suriya Sarkar, Rohan Paul and Suparna Sarkar home from school, Jodhpur Park, Kolkata. (Laura McPhee)

Mudiali Pandal, Kolkata (Laura McPhee)