During World War II, more than a hundred thousand US soldiers, popularly known as GIs, camped in Calcutta, India, to steer the Eastern Front war against the Imperial Japanese Army in the China-Burma-India theater. The port city became a strategically relevant transit hub for the soldiers to airlift food and military resources, alongside channeling information to war zones. But it also acted as a site for the rest and recreation of the soldiers. With higher salaries and added scope for leisure in Calcutta, the pervasive presence of the GIs introduced a new orientation of military relationship with the public—more cordial, touristic, and commercially transactional than the British officials. Military photographer Clyde Waddell captured the recreational activities of GIs in the streets of Calcutta at their behest and self-published sixty photographs in 1946. Though the images depict everyday scenes in the colonial city, their thematic elements and semiotics betray the ideological designs of the US Army in an era of changing global equations. Waddell's images inhabit a curious location between wartime reportage and personal memorabilia. This article undertakes a semiotic reading of such photographs by Waddell to situate the complex location of the American GIs in the erstwhile capital city of the disintegrating British colony.
Wartime photography in the Indian subcontinent has evolved as a tangled patchwork of ideologies informed by intersecting histories of colonialism, ethnography, propaganda, and photojournalism. From the occupational act of capturing war consequences—dating back to Felix Beato's photographs of the 1857 Indian Mutiny—to its induction into the military-industrial complex, the generic precepts of war photography often remain indistinguishable from warfare motives. During World War II, the medium became institutionally aligned to war efforts with formally trained army photographers and an elaborate state network of conflict-zone reportage.1 But the war theaters in the crumbling European colonies of South and Southeast Asia remained aloof from the visual repertoire of gallantry and upfront action pervading media coverage. In the China-Burma-India (CBI) “forgotten theater,” the Allied forces were underrepresented in personnel, resources, and press efforts compared to their European counterparts. US Army Signal Corps photographers like Syd Greenberg extensively documented the famine, refugee crisis, desecrated landscapes, scarcity of military equipment, and unlivable conditions away from home.2 At the same time, many American soldiers fostered an amateur passion for photographing the customs and lifestyles of the people in these regions. Calcutta became a prominent metropolitan hub for such photographic indulgences as, even though not a combat zone, it served as a transit site for rest and provision of logistics. Clyde Waddell, an army photographer, photographed the streets of Calcutta and the daily lives of American GIs in the city on the brink of India's independence. The images adopt a vernacular vocabulary, documenting a different corpus of visuals on the lives of American soldiers in Calcutta during World War II. The mass deployment of American troops in the strategically significant port city and erstwhile British Indian capital actuated a field of cultural contestations, which figures prominently in the visual tropes and motifs of Waddell's photographs. Instead of addressing immediate wartime situations, they stimulate reflections about the subterranean political tensions in the arena of shifting global powers.
In 1942, the Japanese Empire invaded Burma after ousting the British Indian and the Chinese ground forces, commencing a fully contracted extension of World War II on the Eastern front. No longer did the “Germany first!” rhetoric of the Allied Forces remain valid, whose primary concern was to end fascism in Europe. For the administrative steering of regaining Far East British control and Chinese territories, the Allies responded by constituting the CBI theater. They started constructing the Ledo Road to channel military resources to China as other supply lines broke after the invasion. Also known as the Stilwell Road, it became a counterroute to the infamous Burma rail, which allowed Japanese troops to occupy Burma. Calcutta became a pertinent transit point for the Allies to facilitate communication across and supply to the Eastern war front. But the bombing of the city by the Japanese Imperial Force in December 1942 dealt a heavy blow to the confidence of the British Empire, incurring significant damages to the Kidderpore shipping dock and other commercial hubs. Curfews were declared immediately across the city as the bombings started happening every night and sporadically continued until 1944.3 Following the first round of attacks, the newly instituted India-China Wing of the Air Transport Command stationed more than a hundred thousand American troops in Calcutta from 1942 to 1945.4 Apart from warding off the imminent threat of a complete Japanese invasion of the city, American GIs in Calcutta were responsible for airlifting supplies to China and providing rounds of labor to construct the Ledo Road. The cultural influence due to the amassing presence of the US Army became palpable in the streets. Since most of the infantry stayed in and around city centers like Chowringhee, commercial enterprises thoroughly adopted American sensibilities. The cinema theaters started screening American films, and elite clubs housed in the Grand Hotel or the Great Eastern Hotel held regular jazz concerts. The Firpo restaurant in Park Street became another prominent hub for American soldiers to celebrate dinners and enjoy parties. As a matter of concern for the British authorities, these social events facilitated a cordial and free-spirited relationship between the Indians and the Americans.
The nonthreatening presence of American soldiers introduced a new legacy of Western forces in India, changing the public dynamics between white men and Indian locals. Since the influx of the GIs was crucial in upholding the morale of British military power in India, there was a considerable cultural impact on the hitherto imagined invincibility of the British Empire. Apart from Calcutta, major cities like Karachi and Bombay also saw an increased placement of American troops. More soldiers worked on recruitment drives, training, construction work, and supply lines than fighting on the war fronts.5 As duties in these cities afforded substantial rest and recreation, many American GIs harbored the hobby of photographing their leisurely experiences.6 As a war photographer, Clyde Waddell seemingly took up the language of such prevalent amateur photographic engagement as he strode a more politically motivated path of representing the role of the United States in the Allied Forces' Eastern front war.
Military personnel often tried their hand at photography as a vocation to memorialize their stay in India, photographing their friends at parties or doing daily activities in residences. Many of these images also betray a potent ethnographic fascination toward peoples, customs, native professions, and the poor in the streets. Army Signal Company photographer John H. Smith was responsible for taking and printing identification photographs for civilians and soldiers, alongside serving as cameraman for developing public relations films. But the body of images he brought back from India contained numerous images of himself and his soldier friends playing games, dancing, drinking, or sharing intimate moments (fig. 1). Glenn Garrelts, who worked as the chief clerk in the Registrars and Sick & Wounded Office of the 181st General Hospital at Karachi, made several self-portraits with distinct backdrops and props of Indianness (fig. 2). He photographed the common public and their daily rituals across Bombay, Calcutta, and Karachi, akin to the visual language of another soldier, Bob Fagelson, who had similar interests.
In these archives, Clyde Waddell's photographs mark a peculiar presence. As the personal press photographer to Lord Mountbatten from 1943 to 1945, Waddell traveled to India during the early years of World War II. In 1945, he joined the war magazine of the Allied Forces in South East Asia, Phoenix, which functioned out of Calcutta's Wellesley House. After the liberation of Singapore, Waddell received a leave stay in Calcutta during 1945–46, allowing him to photograph the city at the behest of his friends. As he shot and developed images, they became so popular among his colleagues that he self-published sixty of them in an album titled A Yank's Memories of Calcutta after returning to his home in Houston.7 It features an introduction by his old friend, Charles Preston, and the captions note elaborate descriptions, factual pieces of information, and acerbic jibes on Calcutta's streets. While the images capture the off-duty activities of the GIs, they are unlike the private, intimate photographs taken by other personnel. Waddell uses the ruse of vernacular images to situate his colleagues and the city in a visual scheme that betrays the dynamics of the US Army in the CBI theater. The off-hours photographic engagement of a trained military photographer accords with a vernacular mode of rendering images during wartime, in a manner that decodes and prompts reconsideration of the official frameworks for seeing war.
Critics debate the rubric of vernacular photography, which denotes a range of practices that do not ascribe to a specific genre or conduits of production and proliferation. Vernacular photographs range from family snapshots, touristic images, postcard photographs, commercial and scientific photographs, to personal records of everyday activity. The album of Clyde Waddell emerges from a local, immediate contact with the professions, mannerisms, and routines of people in the streets of Calcutta. It functions like a personal journal, which is varyingly touristic, ethnographic, and diaristic. Despite capturing his colleagues off duty, the structural codas of Waddell's trained photographic gaze mediate the formal approach and framing of the narratives in the photographs. The GIs carried pocket guides like the Calcutta Key, mapping the population, division of castes, list of camps, army lodge, and other relevant information for soldiers to navigate Calcutta. Published by the Information and Education Branch of the American Army, the pocket guides adopted a jovial tone, peppered with ironic comments and bits of brotherly advice, which were indispensable for the ”proper” conduct, work ethic, and entertainment of enlisted soldiers. In a list of dos and don'ts, it is markedly prescribed: “Take pictures only of the laboring classes (and then only if they consent); upper-class Indians don't like to be photographed.”8 As a prerequisite of recreational photographic activity, it touches upon the agency of the camera and its class-based acceptability in the public space. Apart from such written injunctions, Waddell's vision plays along the popular discourse of the American army during the war. The political quotient in Waddell's series of photographs is often apparent even though he photographed and published them at the urging of his GI friends. Traversing the dynamics of commerce, tourism, and colonial relations, the visual semantics of this body of work speaks to the American political location in an era of changing global equations.
The definitional scope of vernacular photographs escapes the taxonomies of photographic praxis and immediate forms of functionality. Geoffrey Batchen situates the vernacular in the intertwined relationship between the material and the conceptual history of photography. His notion of vernacular photography departs from any possible categorical logic in classifying the medium. Instead of becoming a new collectible category and reinforcing the mainstream–margin divide, he proposes to rethink the value systems that institutionally validate certain forms of praxis and excludes others.9 The vernacular is an epistemological framework—the vernacularization of history and the theory of photography. Reading beyond the content of the photographs, he also analyzes the material history of vernacular photographs as objects in family albums, postcards, identity cards, and miscellaneous print materialities. A vernacular history of photography effaces the distinction between the objects (physical) and contents (conceptual), resulting in a “complex historical morphology for photographic meaning.”10 The ability to surpass affixed directives of analyzing particular genres and forms of photographs is to adapt a vernacular mode of assessing photography. As he asserts, “This vernacular semiology of the photographic . . . is the necessary eruption of photography's history . . . an eruption that promises to transform not just this history's object of study but its very mode of existence.”11
Batchen's conceptual framework of vernacular historicity brings to light the ways that Waddell's photographs facilitate a vernacular idiom for representing war. Devoid of war front actions, these photographs speak to the horrendous circumstances of war through leisurely and quotidian aspects of military life in the transit region of Calcutta. However, they are not simply souvenir images for soldiers because Waddell also pays detailed attention to ways of life in the city and the interaction of American GIs with the people. In a characteristic ethnographic venture, Waddell's album categorically presents archetypes of professions (cobbler, barber, and snake charmers), rituals (Brahmin ceremony, devotees praying to Shiva), and architectural landscapes (bridges, ghats, temples). Most images of GIs have a nondramatic focalizing element around which his comments evolve, included as captions to the images, which often animate the still frames with instantaneous descriptions. There is a conscious fashioning of the American identity through the GI figure, which appears distinctly different from the British counterpart. The variegated language of touristic, ethnographic, and diaristic modes of image making surfaces as vernacular imaginations of war, expediting a hermeneutic revaluation of war imagery. Indeed, the vernacular manifests as a critical category in Waddell's album, which muddles generic divisions.
GI and New Commerce
A recurring visual motif in Waddell's photographs of the American GIs is transactional activity, particularly with vendors and street sellers. Calcutta became a principal hub for soldiers to buy souvenirs and cheap gemstones as they spent their time off from the Eastern Front battle theater. The Calcutta Guide, for instance, listed a separate section warning against exorbitantly priced souvenirs. Apart from listing shops and markets for particular objects like textiles, jewelry, musical instruments, and more, there are thorough instructions on winning the “minor sport” of bargaining.12 The GIs also had a higher pay scale and purchasing power than British military officials.13 With more recreational time at their disposal, shopping became a favorite pastime, leading to the bolstering of American consumer markets across metropolitan centers. In Waddell's album, there is a repetitive motif of GIs engaged in shopping, with similar gestures and bodily comportment in the frames. The photographs portray them surveying items with their head humbly bowed in curiosity and generosity. They are interested in a range of products, from magazines and “lurid novels” in street-corner bookstalls, “trinkets for girlfriend,” and exotic gemstones.14 Photographs of transactional activity also include negotiations with prostitutes as the sex industry in Calcutta boomed—as did the rate of venereal diseases—due to the unprecedented influx of foreign soldiers.15 The indulgence in these forms of trade continued despite the directions GIs received from army offices to maintain cordial and gentle relations with the Indian public. As a Calcutta Key code of conduct mentions: “Soldiers aren't trained to be gentle, but you can smile, brother, smile.”16
The burgeoning economic stature of the United States became well known in the disintegrating, debt-ridden British Empire, exposing the fallacy of global British supremacy. American soldiers actively intervened in alleviating the plight of the people during cyclones, bouts of hunger crisis, and man-made disasters by starting voluntary food-donation services and transportation of food to remote areas—adding further political insecurity among the British officials.17
One photograph from Waddell's album depicts a crowded scene around a streetside performer who remains out of sight (fig. 3). A few American soldiers perch upon the back of a military truck to glimpse the performance. With undemanding and laid-back postures, they inhabit the center of the scene as a part of the spectacle. The scene portrays multiple transactional points ranging from the rickshaw drivers, beggars, a shoe shiner, hawkers, to one street performer. The GI vehicle is stationed amid the crowd, becoming a fulcrum for accruing different business possibilities. Surrounded by hand-pulled rickshaws and barefoot individuals, the military truck imparts the weightage of capital. The accompanying comment of Waddell notes, “This is a good spot for hawkers, beggars, shoe shine boys, showmen to work on the bankroll of the ‘rich American soldier.’”18 The discourse of American military prosperity, located in the figure of the GI, comes forth as an object of spectacle in a city decimated by colonial exploitation. While the spectacular acts of the streetside performer create a transaction site, the transactional prowess of the GIs itself becomes a spectacle. Waddell's camera sits on an elevated level, probably on top of another truck, and the horizontal and vertical axes appear coordinated straight. This solidity of his perspective stands out against the candid description, marking the image with a certain ambiguity regarding his positionality in the scene.
Illustrating the superior purchasing power of the American soldier, another photograph shows a GI inspecting a “rare gem” from a street seller (fig. 4). The transactional activity unarguably fixates the narrative focus of the frame, along with Waddell's description of the scene: “The GI tourist here ponders the purchase of a ‘rare gem’— a typical camera study of life on Chowringhee during the war. Firpo's famous restaurant is in the background, and dhoti-clad Indians and a British officer in shorts lend a bit of atmosphere.”19 In contrast to the chaotic background, soldier and seller maintain a momentary relation of poise and collectedness. The British officer in khaki shorts, who “lend[s] an atmosphere” amid other Indians appears pushed to the margins. The dhoti-clad person behind them stares back at the GI and the seller with a stark expression of amazement, while the barefoot bald person behind the seller nonchalantly grins into the camera. These encircling orchestrations of gaze, coupled with the camera's jarring flash, produce a theatrical effect highlighting the transaction. Apart from its spectacular status, the photograph represents American consumerism as a new cultural value. By the late years of World War II, the US dollar has surpassed the value of the British pound. The United States was slowly emerging from its isolationism as it asserted a more dominant global presence. The interventionist United States dynamically intervened in the postwar reconstruction of countries ravaged by the war, establishing a new market economy for the export and trade rights of American goods in the process.20 This photograph plays out the shifting equations of global economic power on a semiotic level.
Another image concerning the selling of supposedly precious stones show four young “Sikh boys” following two GIs to sell their products (fig. 5).21 The turbans on their heads are too big for their age, and they probably wore them as props to highlight the sellers' Indianness to foreign buyers. As if mirroring the gestures, the children similarly hold out the gems with their arms partially outstretched, eager to have the soldiers as their customers. The GIs, however, try to maintain a distance from them, keeping a confident march. There is an upper-handed demeanor in their refusal to engage with the sellers. Waddell writes that these “shrewd” and malum (cunning) boys know considerable English to trick the soldiers into buying their products. The composition and the photograph's overall mood unambiguously situate the soldiers as prosperous consumers. This era marked the transition of the world economic order from imperialism to neocolonial capitalism.
The 1944 GI Bill introduced new heights of prosperity to the war veterans, giving them unemployment benefits and school education and incorporating them into the civilian workforce. With salaries five times higher than the British soldiers, which they used to indulge in an ostentatious living style, in more leisurely activity, and in expressions of greater generosity, the GIs became a source of anxiety and social tension for the British officials in the colonies.22 These contestations visibly manifest in the composition, motifs, and formal structure of these otherwise unsuspecting photographs. While the scene looks spontaneously captured, there lies a coincidence that is too jarring to overlook. The Hamilton and Co. store is a contrasting backdrop to the street-hawking activity because the franchise furnished British households in India. The contrast in this image almost signifies the crumbling elite order of the British Empire against the newly emergent American military men dashing forth with pressing economic attention. Without any explicit reference to this layer of meaning, the play between such strong political denotation and spontaneity invests the image with a vernacular density.
GI Tourism in Calcutta
Alongside a competing foreign financial state power, the presence of American GIs also introduced a nexus of warfare and tourism. The large-scale stationing of soldiers around various war theaters generated an unprecedented impetus for touristic activity, particularly in the late years of the war. The notion of the American tourist soldier emerged and was endorsed by the US authorities during this period, which persists to the present day in thoroughly ingrained techno-cultural forms.23 Since World War II, tourism and warfare have intersected in manifold ways, generating dynamic space for shaping foreign representations of war, intercultural transactions, and propaganda efforts. With newly efficient networks of global transit, increased demand for army transportation, technological refinement, and new trade corridors in a postcolonial world order, World War II signified the commencement of industrial-scale tourism. The greater availability of service breaks, off-time schedules, and numerous noncombatant army roles in the US Army further facilitated the touristic impetus.24 As an institutional enterprise, war tourism promoted the image of the benevolent and liberal-thinking American soldier. Armed with Coca-Cola and candies, the GIs became the cultural emissaries of Americanism and set the grounds for postwar expansion masked with tourism. Particularly in Western European countries like Italy and France, the American war machine created incentives with heavy investment to fund soldiers for collective tours, creating scopes for pro-American economic reconstruction, bilateral trade, and business investments.25 Therefore, war tourism became a systemic appendage to implement the global policies of the American political economy. In Calcutta Key, apart from directions of proper conduct and respect toward Indian cultures, the booklet also clearly fleshes out the overarching postwar purpose: “India must and will assume a prominent role. You are a practical person from a practical nation. You can see that it makes common sense for anyone to cultivate a lasting friendship with India. Go for it, then. YOU—you're the one who is going to do it. It is part of YOUR JOB.”26 The touristic motives, however, were hard to envision in the alien climate of Calcutta, contrary to Paris or Naples. The US army strained to acclimatize the soldiers to the city's social and cultural geography. The American Red Cross publication Guide to Calcutta, for instance, exhaustively lists restaurants, lodges, and shopping and recreational centers, alongside their opening and closing schedules for soldiers. The directives, however, do not refer to scopes for expedition beyond certain precincts of Calcutta. Instead, they were concerned with harnessing the recreational time and activity of the GIs to invest in American culture within the city. Tourism became a means of signaling American presence in the big transit ports of the Eastern War Front as the soldiers rested away from the conflict zones. It emerged with a significant soft power appeal, pushing commercial and cultural influence.27
A section of Clyde Waddell's photographs constitutes landscape shots of streets, landmark government buildings, mosques and temples, overcrowded stations, and markets. There are also several aerial shots, a hugely popular form during World War II. The accompanying comments to these images of landmarks are ethnographic in documenting their historical significance and contemporary situation. These landmarks across the city were tourist spots for the newly arrived American soldiers. In a photograph of the Nimtolla mosque, Waddell frames the building structure vertically with a prominent focus on the front facade—arches, columns, and minarets (fig. 6). A bullock cart cuts through the frame in the lower right corner, with two bulls in the foreground. An army truck stands in the distance amid the busy street with numerous dhoti-clad people. About the photograph Waddell writes: “The Nimtolla Mosque, largest Mohammedan mosque in Calcutta. Its prayer hall will accommodate 10,000 worshippers. A modern specimen of Indo-Sarascenic architecture, its Minarets (towers) are 151 feet high. GI truck at entrance is waiting for a load of soldiers on American Red Cross tour.”28 In an overtly suggestive gesture, the military apparatus is visually implanted in a well-sought tourist destination, indicating the operational importance of touristic activity.
Teresia Teaiwa inventively conceptualizes the relationship between military activity and tourism by coining the composite term “militourism,” defined as a complex that takes account of the collisions in the tourism and military industries. In this interaction, the dual ideological and logistical flows feed into each other's networks.29 Basing her research on the Pacific islands, she notes how the tourism industry draws on the military histories of the islands and consolidates military presence during a crisis. Conversely, the military patronizes hotels and recreation spots related to the wartime entertainment of soldiers.30 The militourist activity of the US army across the globe during World War II unfolded in tandem with the liberal market agenda.
The photographs of Clyde Waddell depict the streets as characteristic sites of fantasy and intrigue, as well as familiarity with spaces back home. In a scene of several roadside stalls lined together, he refers to it as a parallel of the American railroad magazine stand (fig. 7). He writes about the unclassified assortment of goods available in these spaces, including “canes, suitcases, soda, water, shopping bags, cigarettes, and a hundred other items peculiar to the Indian taste.”31 The photograph depicts a nighttime scene brazenly lit with a possibly elaborate setup by Waddell, making everyone turn toward the camera. Aided by the intensity of halogen bulbs, the whites appear slightly overexposed. Sludge and discarded objects litter the foreground, with a range of barefoot men and children staring at the camera from the footpath. Unlike the other photographs of GIs interacting with the street population, there is a clear distance between the photographer and the photographed. Waddell is here one nonintervening military personnel, a tourist with detached curiosity. The steady line of gaze directed toward the camera renders Waddell a spectacular tourist, initiating a play of perspectival encounters across cultures. The quintessential militourist approach embodied in the photographer's location becomes an object of inquiry and amazement itself. It is hard to ignore Waddell's manipulative construction of a particular kind of darkness underlined by noir aesthetics.
Another nighttime photograph of Calcutta depicts a long line of horse-drawn carts at rest (fig. 8). A mass of blank space pervades the foreground, washed with a heavy flash setup. The empty carts remain at rest with the horses and two crouching teenagers throwing a blank glance toward the camera, creating an uncanny atmosphere. A typical noir aesthetic exudes through the high-contrast image due to the use of a strong light source. The American noir genre, in fact, precisely developed in the 1940s and '50s, reflecting the dark civilizational anxieties of moral uncertainty and crimes. Describing the scene, Waddell writes, “Nightfall in Calcutta stirs the imagination and curiosity as to what goes on down dimly-lit alleys often leading an occasional soldier into the out-of-bounds areas. If you don't know the way, five rupees will buy a trip to the few still existent brothels in one of the garies shown here.”32 There is an indubitably touristic motif in this scene peppered with mystery, fantasy, and a fetishistic attachment to otherness. The antinomy of fear and fascination, integral to the foundations of Oriental othering, is embodied rigidly in the discursive body of Waddell's photographs. However, the gaze of amazement toward certain Calcutta streets contrasts with the representation of everyday, commonplace situations depicted in the images. Particularly in the context of colonial war imagery, they do not directly concern conflicts, death, or destruction. From soldiers shopping in the streets to people carrying out their daily chores, he pays minute attention to ordinary details. Mass tourism becomes a construction of habits and practices, and the tourist experience a performance. Touristic activity has become more democratized, standardized, and starkly ubiquitous as it shifted from a prewar elite occupation of individual expeditions to mass-scale middle-class recreational activity. It embodies the “unreflexive, habitual, and practical enactions which reflect common-sense understandings of how to be a tourist.”33 The individual comments of Clyde Waddell accompanying his images render the scenes as sites of spectacle. But his approach follows the performance of alterity habituated in the American imagination of India. The military imperative of tourist orientations resorted to a vernacular mode of imaging wartime Calcutta, which relates to predictable practices of imaging the other.
The Office of War Information in the United States took considerable charge of shaping the public perception of American war aims through the imagery of World War II, particularly until 1944. In a systemized effort to perpetuate the mythology of the “good war, there were clear directives to censor images of dead or injured soldiers or pictorial depictions of the horrendous battlefield conditions.34 Later, in 1945, the trope of decimated soldiers in American visual culture gradually transformed into a propaganda tool, urging the civilian population to connect to the war. The rhetoric of “Every civilian a fighter” and “What did you do for freedom today?” campaigns by another administrative body, the US Office of Civilian Defense, permeated the public imaginary to garner validation for its wartime efforts in foreign lands.35 The visual representation of GIs gradually adapted to the changing rhetorical needs based on situational responses to the war. On a similar front, divisions across race, gender, and notions of masculinity governed the public imagery of US soldiers fighting across various foreign war theaters. Ironically, the quintessential image of the white American male GI became an enforced principle of representation in an army that consisted of nearly a million African American troops.36
In Calcutta, two segregated Red Cross Clubs existed simultaneously, one belonging to all-white American soldiers and the other to African American soldiers. The camps were miles apart, with different facilities of military support and comfort. Essential military amenities like access to a swimming pool were also substantially restricted to the twenty-two thousand African American soldiers, resulting in boycotting and nonviolent agitation within the US army factions. Their relationship with the native civilians was also complex. Oftentimes, they were invited to parties and ceremonies where white soldiers were not invited.37 But, at the same time, several reports also suggest that they were discriminated against and villainized by the Bengali bhadrolok society. The absence of these narratives from the vernacular photographic archives of American GIs, including Clyde Waddell's, betrays the wider structural nets that filtered the meaning of US war efforts and GI identity around the world. Despite the significant encounters, rarely are there any extensive photographic works documenting their presence in the city. The Office of War Information even produced propaganda films showing state-of-art facilities for Black GIs in Karachi, then a part of undivided India.
Indeed, Waddell's photographs are built upon the exclusionary foundations of these absent narratives because, as a white American, his movements and engagement were limited only to certain regiments. Working at the intersections between commercial war photographer and personal documentarian for his GI friends, Waddell draws from and invokes a vernacular language for visualizing warfare. The subjectivity enshrined in his off-duty approach is not without the cultural and institutional dictates that govern the public imagination of American war efforts. Therefore, a field of cultural contradictions plays out underneath the daily visuals of GIs in Calcutta. The vernacular evolves as a critical aesthetic category that pries open the generic framework for representing war. By attending closely to the semiotic designs of Waddell's photographs in historiographic terms, we can discern some of his political motivations. The presence of GIs across the world incited different modalities of cultural contestations with their soldier/liberator/tourist identity. This was the case not just in France, Japan, Italy, and Germany—whose involvement in World War II is well recognized—but also in Calcutta, where GIs were, as this article has shown, no less present. The prominence of GIs in these sites stoked uncertainty and anxiety as the geopolitical balance of power shifted in the waning days of the British Empire to a postcolonial world order of American global influence. Adopting a vernacular language of photography became a constitutive factor in navigating India's otherness and establishing the American presence. In a double-fold relationship, the play between spontaneity and choreography in the photographs taken by Waddell promotes vernacular historicity. Vernacular idiom, therefore, rests in the fluidic capacity of his images. They are not static sites of recording information but render a complex circuitry of meaning that situates discursive designs and motivations. In this nonhierarchical genus, several political, social, and economic forces counteract, and Waddell's photographs of Calcutta bring this particular function of images to the fore.