The 1950s in India and Pakistan : in photos by Frank Horvat

From Lahore's Heera Mandi to Calcutta's Marine Bar : photos by Frank Horvat explore the unseen, untold lives of people in India and Pakistan in the 1950s. 

The early 1950s were a fascinating blend of promise and uncertainty in recently-independent India and a newly-formed Pakistan. This was also a time when illustrated magazines flourished across the world. But photos from South Asia remained a rarity for European publications, adding to the intrigue surrounding the region.

It was around this time that Frank Horvat, a young, aspiring photojournalist arrived at Karachi, Pakistan (in 1952) without a return-reservation. A meeting with noted photographer Henri Cartier Bresson the previous year, had encouraged him to adopt a Leica camera and travel extensively through India and Pakistan. He hoped to take pictures that would tell the world some great stories.  

Horvat’s choice of subjects and his presence in places forbidden, unfrequented by press-photographers quickly earned him publications in international magazines. Some of these were LIFE, Réalités, Match, Picture Post, Die Woche, and Revue. 

1952, Lahore, Pakistan, entrance to Heera Mandi (the red light area), night scene 

His photos – from Lahore’s Heera Mandi (the red light district), to the Marine Bar in Calcutta on a Christmas night, reveal his fascination for intimate, confidential scenes. One of his photographs from a Lahore wedding (Nikah ceremony) – during which the groom discovers his wife’s face in a mirror – was even chosen for Museum of Modern Art’s groundbreaking exhibition “The Family of Man” in 1955. It toured the world for eight years and was seen by more than nine million people. 

…this trip to Pakistan and India has been the real beginning of my photography

Frank Hovat, Horvatland
Horvat’s photo of a young girl from Heera Mandi, Lahore, published in the Zurich publication, Die Roche, 1953. 

Here’s a look at some of these early photos of Pakistan and India that cemented Francesco Horvat’s position amidst photojournalists. 

Frank Horvat (1928-2020) is among the world’s most acclaimed photographers today. The last two years have witnessed exhibitions in tribute, and more recently, one in Paris celebrated his incredible globe-trotting career spanning eight decades and several countries. For a contemporary viewer, his early photos allow an experience of the unseen, untold lives of people in India and Pakistan. 

Mohammedan wedding, the bride 1952, Lahore, Pakistan. 

Heera Mandi ( the red light area), 1952, Lahore, Pakistan


On the Streets, Lahore 1952

Photos of India, 1952-53


Horvat became known the photographer of ‘the body and the confidential’. He later moved to Paris and London, photographing a strip club, and producing a series on prostitution. 

In the 1960s, he returned once again to India as a part of his “grand tour”.

Supported by the Director-in-chief of the German reporting magazine Revue, he undertook for eight months a vast photographic essay around the world – through Cairo, Tel Aviv, Calcutta, Sydney, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles, NYC, Rio and Dakar. 

Here’s a photo from Marine Bar, Calcutta on Christmas night (1962). 

For more pictures and Horvat’s personal notes, visit Horvatland.

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