a p e r t u r e 

s t e l l a  s n e a d  


To have a passion either for something or a person is essential to a good life; at least one passion for a period, a thing, an activity, perhaps a belief, preferably not religious. Perhaps two passions are better than one. Some of us have more – several, even; some have none. These I would say are the unfortunate ones, yet they get along; some are charming. In this piece I am writing about myself as a photographer, but I think there is a need to go back to the beginning.

But where, exactly, is that? Presumably birth. For myself, I’d like to start at age 26. I don’t believe my childhood fascinated me very much, and my early youth was for the most part wasted between frivolity and boredom. My background was vegetarianism, which led to good health and being a nudist. There was also Noel Coward from my early teens, which did help, rather. I was attracted to the sophisticated ease of his way of being, the wit and general amusement he depended on to make life flow. To be thus was not a very commendable ambition, but perhaps that was about all I had. I did not want to serve yet, I wanted very much to be happy. I learned – oh so much later – that happiness is a by-product of loving, at least of being kind, perhaps even serving or doing good. Remember, please, that I dislike most obvious do-gooders and I suspect I dislike self-sacrifice. I was a slow developer and I had only one artist friend. We went to islands in southern Europe together.

In May 1936, it was Tenerife in the Canary Islands, which are daringly out in the Atlantic, and belonged then to Spain. We stayed in the tiny port of Oratava, surrounded by banana plantations and beaches of black sand, lava dust from the splendidly symmetrical volcano which graced the center of the island. We had access to a private garden where my friend was painting flowers, using oils. I watched her closely one day and had a strong and immediate conviction that I could do this, at least I could do what she was doing – applying the oil paint neatly with a brush and it stayed where she put it, quietly, obediently. Sometimes she merged the colors on the canvas, or left them hard-edged; she could also remove them with a knife and do something different. There was time to think and decide.

My immediate need was to be home and to be alone with paints, without a thought of tuition. I painted in my bedroom for the rest of the summer, six small flower paintings. Now only one remains, of red begonias and their leaves. If I look at it, it is with wonder – how could I have done it? I had no background in the arts, no knowledge, went rarely to museums. As autumn approached I had three choices. My painter friend was to be lent a house in Tangier where I could join her, or I could stay at home and paint, or I could study with the French painter, Amédée Ozenfant, who was coming from Paris to open a school in London. Of course I had not heard of him, but the idea of one teacher and a small number of students appealed to me far more than one of the big schools, so I chose this, rather tentatively, for one semester. I then heard that Ozenfant was a friend and colleague of Léger, that they had taught at the Académie Moderne in Paris, that le Corbusier had built Ozenfant a house and that together they had started the Purist Movement in the ‘20s.

The Ozenfant Academy of Fine Art opened in London in mid-September 1936. When I came, there was at first just one other student in the nicely spacious studio; she was Leonora Carrington at 19, beautiful, her eyes intense and mischievous. Ozenfant spoke only French and looked to be about 50. What people! I had never met anyone like them. Other students soon joined us. On the back wall was an immense mural-sized painting on which Ozenfant was working. I was doubtful if I liked it. The main thing was that I was enthralled by where I was, by meeting so many people in the arts and to have found myself a passion at last. This was my first passion, and it took a strong hold. I knew without question what I wanted to do.

Ozenfant’s method of teaching suited me; it involved working slowly, being meticulous and thinking. In those first weeks most of us drew from the model who took the same pose for two weeks, our double-elephant sized paper stretched neatly onto a board. We gathered in a group around each student for the daily criticisms, which were translated by a striking-looking woman in her 30s, who was also a student. These criticisms could spread into talks on a wide range of subjects; this seemed to me very much what tuition should be. I was never bored, though I was often shy, as I felt I knew so little. But I was catching up; doors were opening on all sides; I began to see myself as an artist with a leaning towards surrealism.

We students often spent Saturdays in the museums, for me a continual revelation. At first I was most attracted to Gauguin and Le Douanier Rousseau. Around this time I decided to do a painting at home, not having the assurance to do it with others looking on. It was of a woman, naked, sitting cross-legged on the ground with a smooth cat on either side of her a short distance away, across the foreground curved a snake. In the background Rousseau took over – fat, highly indented leaves, lianas, a few small shapes like hot peppers. When I brought it to the studio there was a hush at first, then Ozenfant kissed me. I felt I’d be a painter for the rest of my life.

Suddenly it was 1939: events and decisions were shooting in from all sides and lives were changing. In Europe, War was upon us. I had long wanted to go to America. Ozenfant decided to move the school to New York. I left mother and lover and immigrated with four trunks, mostly filled with books and reproductions of Europe’s works of art, for I rather extravagantly believed if Hitler won the only hope for civilization to continue was in America. I worked with Ozenfant for another two years, making it five years in all. From the spring of ‘41 I was on my own, though I cannot say that I settled down, as I spent time both in New York or among European refugee friends in Hollywood, and I explored what was in between mostly by bus. I was captivated by the size of the country, the width of the skies, the straightness of the roads. There was still a kind of frontier excitement in the West. I was particularly enthralled by the Southwest. I learned that parts of it were still to be explored; there were canyons unvisited, perhaps natural rock bridges still to be seen for the first time, those white patches on maps still to be filled in; and this was the ‘40s. It blew my mind that this could be in the same country as New York. Southern Utah and Northern Arizona has been called “standing up country,” and the rocks do just that, rear up in amazing shapes from the desert floor or form the canyon walls. And here in New York we have the skyscrapers, which have always seemed appropriate buildings to me, and when the streets are narrow they make another style of canyon. Therefore I feel at home in both places, as do certain falcons and red-tailed hawks who now live atop the heights of the city.

I lived in Taos, New Mexico, for nearly four years in the late ‘40s, and probably did much of my best painting there. It was a new kind of life for one who had always lived in cities. This tiny town, dominated by its scenery, was placed in an arrangement of sagebrush plane and mountains so satisfyingly right that it brought both serenity and excitement. I was content in my two-room adobe house, content not to have a car; with one the spell might have been broken, as it would have been impossible not to wander too far and too often. Exploring could be done later, and was. Here, at home, first and foremost was the magic and wonder of painting. Often, I would see my paintings whole, just there before me; then I would do them with varying degrees of effort, sometimes with exhilaration, sometimes in despair.

Outside happenings were different and diverting. Christmases at the pueblo just five miles out of town, the adobe houses stacked to five stories, where we watched the processions and massed dances of the Indians. Then there were remarkable natural phenomena, the displays in the sky such as double rainbows, clouds imitating the flat-topped mesas, shooting stars, sometimes showers of them, a moonbow, black skies heralding storms: but more sun than anywhere else I had lived. As a painter I was somewhat isolated from the resident artists, who were moving headlong into abstraction; but, still, there were warm and lively friendships even if there was no surrealist group to join. This seemed to be a repeating pattern for me; perhaps I had more talent for being an outsider than a joiner, but should I worry, I hardly could when the urge to go my own way was pushing so firmly and spontaneously.

Showing distance in my paintings became a need, creating a place where the viewer or I myself could be; they also hinted of the unbounded beyond. This was one of the characteristics of surrealism I responded to: this, and its surprise, its daring, its humor. But there was some outside interest in my work, evidenced by the fact that I had eleven solo shows between 1941 and 1950. As far as I can recollect each show came about through my own peddling efforts. The last of these, in May 1950, was to be in London’s leading surrealist gallery.

Although I was sad to leave the beauties of Taos, I had confidence that I had worked well there, had a chance to become established as a painter and be sought after, even. Things happened differently. My father had bad mental troubles, some of which I may have inherited; but I knew very little of him, as my mother and I left him when I was five, never to see him again. Depressions fell on me, some of them without any obvious outside cause. This one was long and hard, and I was in smithereens. Where had all confidence gone? I couldn’t face going to London for my exhibition. I tried to get back to painting – puny they were, their centers often blank, with awkward, angular, spiky shapes around the edges. My center was equally empty. After two and a half years I began to emerge, thinking that somehow the vacuum would be filled. It was not a zooming up, but rather a quiet creeping from under the long stifling depression.

Some time in 1952 came an invitation to India, a place to which I had never thought of going, from a young American I had known in Taos, Didi, who had married an Indian and was now living joint-family in a small town, 115 miles from Bombay. (It is a traditional custom that the wife joins her husband’s family; hence the term “joint-family.”) I went by ship in November ’52. It was as if in one leap I landed into the midst of traditional India. No Western hotels or Indian sophisticates intervened. I was excited and intensely occupied, absorbing it all in ravenous gulps. It was several weeks before I realized that India itself was generously filling my vacuum with its sights, its people, its ways of being, its unselfconscious beauty, even its ugliness. It no longer mattered that I was not painting; there were other ways of filling a life.

Although I was feeling more comfortable and healthy again inside myself, I was quite unclear about what, exactly, I would do instead of painting. At this point I was riveted by India, learning its ropes, one might say. One of the chief events of this summer of 1953 was the birth of Didi’s second child, a boy, who was born in the bungalow. I was in the next room. A few days after his birth came his naming ceremony – he was to be called Rahoul. Mixing a Christian custom with theirs, I was invited to be Rahoul’s godmother.

The plan had been to stay six months. I decided I couldn’t leave. Just that. How could I leave such a place? I had been doing much lone traveling on the grand old British trains, then still in general use, with nights in bungalows built for the British civil servants or in station waiting rooms – it was only five years after India was given Independence. I went north, south, east and west with never a moments loneliness, and then back for intervals of rest with the ever-hospitable family; they, and particularly Didi, were like a wondrous open window or mirror by which to watch and study the intricacies of India.


Finally, I left, in February 1954; by then I had been fifteen months in India. Why did I leave? Certainly I loved India; but I was perfectly happy living in New York: I loved it, too. Then, I had no thought of living in India. This came later, on the third visit, in 1958. I returned via England to the States, feeling like a happy nomad, footloose, slowly planning a return to India, this time overland, on the surmise that if there were roads there were probably buses. It seemed to me the most intriguing and desirable project, and for much of the next two years I avidly read books by earlier travelers to the Middle East, Persia and Afghanistan. It was important not to hurry, to move at whim, have surprises, make detours, have no deadlines. I’ve always liked the idea of traveling without reservations. No companion was available to join me but I felt perfectly capable and even glad to be going alone. If you are happy with your own company and not given to loneliness easily, there are plenty of good reasons to travel alone. First, you can do what you like, and at your speed; you are more exposed to the outside world: it’s just you and it. If it’s kind, this is well worthwhile; more people talk to you, for, in many countries, the first thing they want to know is, why you are alone? Certainly, in India it’s best to have a husband and children. Should you have neither, they look sad; so I did a certain amount of inventing – five sons was a winner.

But right now I have just flown from London to Istanbul, which seemed to me a suitable taking off place for this overland venture. As it was pre-hippie time, I was the only Westerner on every bus (about fifty of them in all) but one. At 46, with grey hair, I felt both guarded and privileged, sat up front, was well looked after by a series of drivers and their mates. Thus, in this haphazard way I passed through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and, again, into India. My motto for the Mid-East, and especially Afghanistan, was, “be a man, whatever you are.” It was a freedom journey, guided by reading I had done. I knew a little something about each country. I moved or stayed at whim; I missed things, discovered others, some of them dazzling surprises. I seldom hurried, meandered rather. Buses would break down in the wilderness, be late, so deposit me in a strange town in the middle of the night, always; but always a helpful person would appear, carry my luggage to a full hotel, where I would sleep on the floor of the office or wherever (in the courtyard). I loved it all and never felt endangered, for these were the beloved ‘50s, the last good decade to travel, as I have often said.

And so it went on for about four months, unbounded by reservations, dates or deadlines, a kind of heaven, and no one knew where I was. It was perhaps the most stimulating form of contentment I had ever known.

I have neglected to say I was accompanied by a camera, a moderately-priced 35 mm, not automatic, with which I took quite a lot of mediocre pictures, for the record. This time I stayed in India about six months, did my first trek in the Himalayan foothills, and walked into Nepal, on what had been until so recently the only way to go. Only since 1951 was it possible to fly; now (1956) they were building a road, as well.

Also I had my first trekking experience, walking in the Himalayan foothills (Chamba) from village to village with a coolie as guide and carrier of my two sausages of luggage. It was autumn, the time of change from summer to winter pastures. The men danced in an open space beside each village temple, wearing fine white wool, belted jackets and turbans, while the women watched from balconies and hillsides, a wonderfully picturesque scene.

As I found out later, my photography was beginning to improve. Perhaps it was that I was getting used to it all, this business of handling a camera, knowing that if I stopped to clean a filter or to try on a local garment, usually a man’s in an open shop, it was likely that the traffic would stop too. I was also beginning to look more closely and eagerly at the small, still things: the bark of trees, the patterns made by algae on stagnant water, the flowers shopkeepers wove together to decorate women’s hair. There was so much that was new and strange and fascinating to look at in the details of India. I decided that if I was a photographer at all, I was very definitely a still photographer, though I kept right on taking people and their activities. There was every kind of person, from the very poor to the exceedingly wealthy, from nomadic tribals to aristocrats in their opulent palaces, some who owned a hundred elephants and their own private railways. There was still space and serenity and a reassuring feeling of gentleness among most people. This was surprising, and to be treasured, when one thought of the violence that had taken place in 1947, less than ten years before, with the partition of India.

Slowly I had realized that not being able to paint was a release into the abundance of big travel; this and a new carefree confidence urged me to go further east to Burma, Thailand, Cambodia. There were marvels of architecture and sculpture in each country, but it was in Cambodia that I lingered longest, taking more photographs than ever before: for here are the ruins of Angkor, the astonishing Khmer civilization which emerged in the 6th century. Slowly and intensely it bloomed and blazed to its apogee in the 12th century when Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom became its center and its masterpieces. Around these, the present Angkor complex of temples, walls and reservoirs spreads for thirty square miles. Outside and beyond, regardless of the horror Cambodia has had to endure, there may still be hidden and crumbling relics of the Khmer genius. If I may quote the first sentence of the chapter on Angkor in my book RUINS IN JUNGLES (1962): “Here without a doubt is the most stupendous collection of ruins in the world; and they stand surrounded and often enveloped by the most vigorous and splendid jungle in all Asia.”

After this effulgence, the Khmers lasted, with dwindling stamina, for another two centuries, and then it was as if they evaporated. The only power remaining was the jungle itself, until a French naturalist came along and reported his amazing find in 1861. He was not believed; but rather quickly other Frenchmen came and confirmed the discovery, and their experts began the tremendous task of clearing and stabilizing, and – here is the wonder – not clearing in some cases, e.g., the temple of Ta Prohm with the great trees astride it, holding it up.


Here I have to reluctantly change the subject, jump over Japan from where I took ship to San Francisco and then a bus to Taos, New Mexico, where awaited another and quite different kind of revelation – I saw darkroom work for the first time. A friend there was the photographer who used to photograph our paintings in the ‘40s, and here she was printing one of my negatives. I watched in the dark with only a dim safelight as a sheet of photographic paper was slipped into the first tray of liquid. What a way for anything to reveal itself, with such a deliberate yet haunting slowness. I was hooked from that moment. I knew I had a new passion. I must be a photographer and do my own printing, but without knowing the chemistry, so that it would always be miraculous. When a revelation comes, no matter how late, it’s best it be total, not come by halves or dribbles. It took me longer to become aware that one of the great things about photography is that it goes well with travel. They are buddies, one might say. It took me longer still to understand how and why all this came about. My not being able to paint was not the tragedy I had thought but a release, a wide open invitation into big travel together with the extreme fascination of a confined space, the darkroom. During that whole winter I repeated the magic rituals almost daily – often while singing for joy.


With perfect ease the idea came to do a book on “Ruins in Jungle.” Most of the search for such ruins was done in the British Museum Reading Room, as this most impressive library was then called. On my first entrance, I stood stockstill, amazed by the huge dome and radiating arrangement of the seating below. It was all so thoroughly absorbing that my manuscript of the overland bus journey lay forgotten. Then came second visits to Southeast Asian countries, of course including Cambodia, where, with the help of Bernard Groslier, then the Khmer temple’s most devoted conservator, I visited two of the outlying ruins beyond Angkor, little known and in deep jungle. Then from Asia I took a flying leap to the Mayan ruins in Central America; Palenque, in Mexico, now mostly cleared, but then the jungle hugging it closely; and Tikal, in Guatemala, where, in 1959, archeologists had only been working for two years. It was the ideal site, findable by small plane and only partly cleared. This jungle was vastly different, the birds extraordinary, and there could be jaguar instead of tiger and leopard.


On my third visit to India, 1958-59, via Samarkand, then in Russian Uzbekistan, and, again, Afghanistan, I was definitely dedicated to photography; but so far I had only set up one temporary darkroom, in a house I had been lent in London. On arrival in India, I learned that my friend Didi and her husband were to leave the joint family after eight years, had bought land near the beach at Juhu, on the edge of Bombay, and were building a house. “Oh do tack a darkroom onto your house,” I said jokingly. More seriously, Didi said, “But wouldn’t you like a house? I’ll design it, there’s a plot of land available.” Believe it or not, that same evening we were designing my house. It all seemed so easy. The difficulties came later, and were as yet unknown. I continued with my ruins in jungle. It was a project beyond compare, resplendent and daring, like nothing I had ever done before.

I still lived nomadically between London and New York and wherever the desired ruins were. Didi called me to come back to India, and I did. The roof was on, but otherwise the house was far from ready; and Didi had another baby in the midst of it all. Finally, I moved in, in early 1960. My birthday coincided with the house-warming party. To entertain us my bearer (servant) jumped through a flaming hoop in the garden. What an unpredictable thing: to have a house in India.

And with an air conditioned darkroom: I hadn’t felt so settled since birth. Juhu was 16 miles from the center of Bombay. At least I had a car, but no telephone for three years. It was considered that I needed five servants – a cook who also did the marketing; a bearer who served drinks and food, cleaned house and did my washing and ironing. They lived in. Then came a sweeper, a custom from the old days of no plumbing: she appeared once a day to take the garbage to the main road for collection; a gardener; and a watchman to guard the house at night. It proved not too many, for I had plenty of visitors as well as all kinds of servant problems over the first years. Eventually all got adjusted, including myself, to the change from being carefree visitor to a householder. For instance, when a coconut fell through the roof, making a hole, I had to find a way to get it mended. A routine soon established itself. Weekends were social; bathing was year round, only slightly curtailed by the roughness of the sea during monsoon. One day a week I spent in town, the rest in the darkroom, from early morning till 5 or 6 pm, with, often, a walk on the beach at sunset; occasionally a dinner party, and sometimes a late night nude swim, especially if the sea was phosphoresent. Such magical pleasures seemed close at hand in India. There was also the green flash to be seen as the setting sun dipped into the watery horizon. The beach, though near a seething city, was never over-crowded, and it was safe both night and day.


It must have been towards the end of the 1950s that a friend who had studied history of Indian art at Oxford suggested we do a book together about Animals in Indian Sculpture. What an appealing idea! I was hooked, and immediately, with a strong urge, I searched for and photographed the animals depicted in every temple or museum I visited. This friend and I worked well together, until she gave up when no publisher was found; but I went on and on, with other scholarly writers, new arrangements of the photographs, sometimes a publisher, even. All this lasted, with hopes and disappointments, for 26 years: until, suddenly, it all came together. George Michell, an Australian scholar much involved with India, said that these, my photos, must be shown to Wendy Doniger, America’s foremost Sanskrit scholar. It was close to Christmas; still, I sent the bulky photographic dummy, fearing that if it were lost I really would not be able to go on. Very quickly, the highly enthusiastic response came back. It was warm, positive and funny, a treasure of Christmas present. About a year later, the University of Chicago Press brought out the book with 78 photographs under a new title, ANIMALS IN FOUR WORLDS, with fine texts by Wendy and George. They both most generously arranged that my name be larger than theirs on the cover – they must have done this for I most certainly did not. But I liked it, after those 26 years! A splendid talk by Dr. Doniger and a book signing reception took place at the Asia Society in New York city in October 1989; a year later came another book signing party in London. This was my seventh book, and I see I have jumped to 1990, so let us return to the ‘60s, that decade when I had my house in India though often I was elsewhere.

After a visit to London, in 1963, I made a wide detour on returning to India, going via Egypt to see the ancient temple of Abu Simbal, which was about to be moved so as not to be submerged by the waters of the Aswan Dam. It was an exciting time for the archeologists making their last discoveries before the flood, and sad for the many people who had to move. I stayed in Wadi Halfa, at the same hotel as my parents, some years before I was born, when they cruised a thousand miles up the Nile. This whole town, including its minaret, was soon to be under water.

Next, I went to a peaceful and very lovely Ethiopia where the air smelt of eucalyptus, where the people were varied and often beautiful, from the Christians of Addis Ababa to the tribals and Muslims of Harar. Then by air to Aden, to board the ship from England that carried my new enlarger, a Leitz Fotomat from Germany. Back home, the new enlarger and the size of my darkroom inspired my printing. I found I could make 20 x 30-inch prints if I so desired. As my dryer was not that big, I looked for a solution and found a very Indian one: have the mosquito nets put up over the beds; lay the prints on top under the ceiling fans; when still slightly damp, remove prints to glass-topped dining table; cover them with paper or cardboard with books on top so that they dry flat. It worked.


By this time my subject matter was almost everything, but was tending more and more towards details and patterns, such as were always there waiting to be found by alert looking. I soon became a student of the beach two minutes from my door. Its contours could change with the tides. Each time the water receded, the wonders at one’s feet became compelling in their astonishing variety. There are certain rules that hold in some of nature’s escapades. For example, if you look down on an estuary soon after a plane takes off, you realize that the patterns you have seen laid large down there, you can see again on an untrampled beach, a microcosmic replica thereof in the space of a few inches. In each case, these particular patterns stem from a mingling of sand/mud and water. But beaches, having their own distinctive kinds of wildlife, can show us patterns very much their own. For instance a small white crab does a completely unconscious pattern-making-job by spewing out tiny pellets of sand as waste in any and every direction (as shown in my book BEACH PATTERNS). During the 1960s, I had exhibitions of large blow-ups of beach formations in New York and Bombay. Sales were good, and I had the satisfaction of feeling I was showing people something they had not noticed before. Along side of these, I have made collections of industrial and architectural patterns, cut vegetables, patterns for selling, and an especially large group of details that say “India” to anyone who knows the country well. Some of these I put into an album labelled “Indications of India.” This attracted Chatto and Windus, the publishers, of London, but they wanted a more comprehensive book on India. I invited Ramor Godden to do the writing, which resulted not only in an excellent text but in the Viking Press of New York joining the project. SHIVA’S PIGEONS appeared rather quietly in 1972, but it is my best produced book – by photogravure in Japan.


While working, ideas popped up: and both of these happened during the drowning monsoons. To employ the rainy hours indoors I started doing photo-collage, i.e., choosing a sizable background photograph and sticking cut out bits from others thereon. This brought my photography into surrealism, which pleased me. Rather quickly, I had enough for an exhibition in Bombay, and it was a near sellout. Next, I put together a nonsense book, CAN DROWNING BE FUN? This was a mixture of straight and collaged photographs, with a short text pertaining to each page, by myself. A publisher was certainly not immediately found; in fact, some were a trifle hostile. In the meantime, a gallery in Rome gave me show of the prints hung separately on the walls. It was not until much later, when I was back living in New York, that an avant-garde book designer decided that her first venture into publishing should be this book. It appeared in 1992, with a book-signing and display at Printed Matter, a shop in New York’s SoHo specializing in artist’s books – such a good looking small book and worth waiting for.


Now back once more to the last years at my house in Juhu. I had achieved the bliss of having good servants. This may sound an extravagant statement but it was true – at weekends I could say, “Ten for lunch, we’ll have Indian food; eight for dinner, Western food.” During the week, the same smoothness prevailed. I had no domestic work, so time in the darkroom was seldom interrupted. A pleasant addition to the household was a friend from England with a job in Bombay, who came to occupy my guestroom. She could use my car most days for the trip back and forth to the city, to be greeted by the bearer on her return with a cup of tea to unwind with, and would join me around 8 pm for our evening drink. Dinner was when we chose to call for it.

But by the end of the ‘60s, the over-building at Juhu had begun. Two rather high apartment buildings had gone up near my house, one of them blocking the view of nothing but sky and palm trees from a high window in my living room. There were other reasons to make me think of leaving – the heat and the damp of the monsoon, which together made up three quarters of the year. And then, I did not want to be one of the “stayers-on,” those who had spent so long in India as to lose connections elsewhere. I had not, London and New York still seemed open to me, but I hesitated until the end of 1970, when I was in New York, and found an apartment on a 21st floor, with a spacious view of midtown Manhattan and a terrace. As well, the layout was almost as if made for me. There was a suitable space to be curtained off for a darkroom. India is seductive and hard to leave, but I had a place. Even though it had only one room instead of being a house, I knew I could manage. The stimulants of New York beckoned. I paid several months’ rent in advance, returned to India, spent a charming Christmas like no other in the villages and deserts of Kutch, which the three of us, my teenaged godson, Rahoul, my English friend June, fortyish, and myself at 60, were discovering for the first time. Then came packing and leaving, being in London, a visit to Spain, while my heavy luggage came by ship, reaching New York in March 1971. Thirty or more crates were delivered to 21 B, my apartment, fortunately empty except for one green padded rocking chair. I managed to open a crate a day by myself and, sometimes, for a change, looked around in thrift and antique shops shop for furniture. I put up bookshelves and dense black curtains for the darkroom. By May, everything was more or less together, and I started printing. As well, I acquired window boxes and pots so the terrace could be filled with flowers and herbs. Visitors began coming and I began to cook, wishing I had learned more about Indian cooking while there.

Of course I missed India, but I knew I was far from finished with it. All through the ‘70s, I went back. on extended visits and assignments. There is just no end to India. A Buddhist area beyond Kashmir, beyond the Himalayas, known as Ladakh, opened to the outside world in 1975. I went with Indian friends in a hired jeep with driver. We were two days on the then-recently-made road through a starkly beautiful high desert of purple, grey and greenish rock. Leh, the capital, at 11,500 ft, is still a small town of serene and friendly people. The women’s special-occasion headgear is spectacular. There is a panel covered with turquoise going backwards from forehead to waist; on each side flair large “ears” of black karakul. Then, there are cocked hats, often worn lopsided, by both sexes. The many monasteries are intact, and one hopes they will always be protected by India from what is happening to Tibet at the merciless hands of the Chinese.


I only saw my house once again in the early 1970s, just for a weekend, with my cook still there and as good as ever. Now I never hear a good thing about Juhu, the beach being dirty and unsafe. Of the three houses Didi designed, only mine is still left, crushed between highrises. I don’t want to see it. My last assignment, in 1979, was hard work but gorgeous: driving, often without roads, to countless villages in search of folk textiles, embroideries, hand printing, tie and dye work in northwest India, including Rajasthan – the true richness of India. The would-be publisher went bankrupt, but we had series of exhibitions, mainly in London. Then came my very last time in India, in February 1983. “Let’s go to Ladakkh in winter,” I said, learning that it was now full of tourists in summer. You fly in, and see K2, the world’s second highest peak. In Ladakh there is so little precipitation, snow a mere sprinkle, that the roads were open. There were hardly any foreigners, just us and the Ladakhis, seeing several special dancing festivals. The hotel living and dining room were warmed by roaring stoves and the bedrooms were usually freezing – we only took baths if our wood stove, lit each morning by little boys, kept alight and the hot water came at the same time. Otherwise, we kept warm by uphill walking at 12,000 ft. to monasteries without roads and many steps to climb; once we reached them, to be greeted by Tibetan tea, the greatest. In any case, the sun shone every day, and we were very happy.


A Portfolio: Photographs of India

Stella Snead

click to enter the portfolio


An exhibition of Stella Snead’s oil paintings opens on January 13, 2000, at

Galérie Minsky

Arlette Souhami, Director

40, rue de l’Université

Paris 72007

Phone: 011/33 1-55-35-09-00

Fax: 011/33 1-55-35-09-01


Several works by Stella Snead are shown in an exhibition,

Les Femmes dans le Surréalisme

November 17 to December 14, 1999

La Galérie, 9, rue Guénégaud,

Paris 75006

Tel: 011/33-1-4354-8585

Fax: 011/33-1-4633-0469

Published in connection with the exhibition is

Colvile, Georgiana, SCANDALEUSEMENT D’ELLES: Trent-Quatre Femmes

Surrealistes, (Jean-Michel Place, Paris), 1999


Books by Stella Snead:

DROWNING CAN BE FUN? A Nonsense Book (Pont La Vue Press, New York, 1992)


and George Michell (University of Chicago Press, 1989)

BEACH PATTERNS (Clarkson Potter, 1975)

SHIVA’S PIGEONS, text by Rumer Godden (Chatto and Windus, London/Viking Press, NY, 1972)

CHILDREN OF INDIA (Lothrop, Lee & Shephard, NY, 1971)

THE TALKATIVE BEASTS (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1969)

SEVEN SEVEN (Folder Editions, NY, 1965)

RUINS IN JUNGLE (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1962)



See also:

Arch. Vol. 1, No. 3, “Early Cabbage

Arch. Vol. 3, No. 1:

Stella Snead, Paintings,

Early Childhood and Before

Chronology of a Painter

Kirin Naryaan, Stella in Bombay

Pavel Zoubok, The Fantastic Journey of Stella Snead


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