By: Deepali Dewan
Debashis was born and raised in Winnipeg. His Bengali parents moved to Canada from Bihar, India in the 1960s. Jutta’s parents fled East Germany after WWII with only two suitcases, and Jutta was born in West Germany. In 1999, she emigrated alone as an adult to Toronto. Jutta and Debashis married in Toronto and then adopted their daughter from an orphanage in Kolkata, India. In this interview, we look at the role that photographs played in Jutta’s life especially when she became the family photographer at a young age after her father’s death, and how photographs reflected rites of passage for Debashis when he was traveling in the world and starting his music career. We also discuss the important role photographs played before and after the arrival of their daughter, Leena, and throughout the adoption process. There is the album that Jutta and Debashis had to put together for the orphanage to select them, the one that the orphanage put together for Leena of her life before adoption, the one about her Canadian family that Debashis and Jutta put together for Leena before her arrival, and ones they have created together. These are kept on a living room shelf where Leena can easily access them. In the albums are photographs that recreate situations from many years earlier and photographs where Leena is in the same pose as Jutta as a young girl. Every Christmas the family has a photo taken with Santa that joins others from previous years on their kitchen fridge. Through family photos, they hope that Leena will always have something to make sense of who she is and where she came from. The photos include analogue prints, analogues prints that have been scanned and reprinted in albums, digital scans of analogue prints, and born-digital images taken with cameras and cellphones. Among them are family photos that Leena has started to make herself.
The Sinha-Brendemühl family's photos and interview can be accessed in The Family Camera Network public archive at the Royal Ontario Museum.