The Last Craftsmen

Hand Block Printing is an ancient handmade art of Jaipur, Rajasthan. The block printing follows an engaging process of carving on woods, mixing colours and printing on fabrics. A large part of the working-class labourers in and around Jaipur are financially dependant on this art. However, the business of block printing has seen a paradigm shift from authentic work to mechanised commercial productivity with the emergence of modern machines. 

This Photo Essay takes us through various stages of Hand Block Printing, the evolution of its techniques through years, and the threats challenging this handcraft industry.

A Fading Tradition

Printing takes place in numerous locations around Rajasthan, each with its own historical, cultural, and geographical impacts on the art of hand printing. The complex craft of block printing with natural colour has been passed down through centuries in the Indian hamlet of Bagru. The complex procedure begins with the preparation of the material and ends with final printed fabrics using their traditional methods. However, with rampant ‘commodification’ of the trade posing a continuing threat to their livelihoods, craftsmen are being compelled to adjust their craft’s authentic work process to fit in with the market expectations of the economies of scale. In this photo essay, we traverse through the difficulties of artisans involved and how they are exacerbated by fierce competition, the use of chemical colours, and the dilemma surrounding digital and screen prints.