KesselsKramer, , 2009. Softcover. 60 pp., Black & white illustrations throughout, 6-3/4x8-3/4".
Bombay Beauties Collected and edited by Erik Kessels. Published by KesselsKramer, 2009.
A little gem containing exactly 29 images, all of them in B&W, all of them showing female backs and occiputs. Which is basically all there is to say with certainty about the content of Bombay Beauties.
The images are a selection from a larger collection of photographs dug up in Mumbai by Dutch collector and editor Erik Kessels. Apparently made by several anonymous photographers, the images also depict anonymous sitters. Backgrounds - a wall, a curtain, a might-be studio - don’t offer any clue whatsoever. Although the title indicates them as pre 1996 (the year in which Bombay was renamed Mumbai), an actual timeframe is not specified.
The book (booklet, rather) is a sequel to the 2007 release Bangkok Beauties, which followed a more or less comparable visual procedure but presented facial shots made during a beauty contest.
In his publisher’s description of Bombay Beauties, Kessels mentions hairdressers' models, family shots, wedding images and rare shots of Bollywood actors and stars. However, the images being strikingly similar, it’s hard to tell which one is what exactly. Which of course is part of the fun: to muse over the necklaces, earrings, diadems, meticulous haircuts, and embroidered dresses. To reflect on the occasions and the purposes of it all, and to wonder about all the faces that went with all these backs. Kessel himself hints at Mumbai’s ‘untold stories and lives.’ Although this might be called too grand a claim, Bombay Beauties definitely has more to offer than meets the eye.
Eddie Marsman is a photography critic, editor & projects organizer. He lives in Groningen, the Netherlands, where he also teaches at the local Fotoacademie. A regular contributor to NRC Handelsblad, the leading Dutch national evening newspaper, he has written, edited and contributed to several books on Dutch photography and photographers. He usually adds that this is not even half the story.