Photo feature

A snapshot of the South Asian life in England from Masterji’s camera

Maganbhai Patel, better known as Masterji, photographed the South Asian community in Coventry, from 1951 to the 1990s.

A black and white picture of a quartet posing with musical instruments. A curly-haired child, dressed in a patterned sweater and shorts, looking away from the camera. A mustachioed man seated on a Papasan chair, with a leashed German Shepherd dog resting on the ground beside him. These are some of the photographs on display at an exhibition in Coventry, United Kingdom. Shot by Maganbhai Patel, better known as Masterji, these old photographs have been curated by photographer Jason Scott Tilley for an exhibition for the first time.

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

Masterji has been photographing the South Asian community, in Coventry, since the late 1950s, using a Box Brownie – a classic inexpensive camera by Eastman Kodak, which became the cornerstone of his photography business, Master’s Art studio.

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

A photographer of working-portraits and social scenes, Masterji migrated to the United Kingdom a few years after Partition. He first arrived on a passenger ship that left Mumbai port on December 31, 1950, and reached Liverpool on January 21, 1951.

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

To curate Masterji’s work, Tilley connected with Patel’s daughter Tarla over social media a year ago. They went through thousands of Patel’s portraits and photographs, to select 70 for the final exhibition at The Box, Fargo Village, Coventry, called Masterji.

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

Wading through years of accumulated dust, Tilley and Tarla digitally restored all the negatives they used. Tilley refers to the restoration process, as a labour of love: he used a darkroom at Coventry University, while on a short residency, to remake Patel’s portraits from the 1960s-1970s.

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

He has written about the process on his blog.

We began to sort through her fathers negatives on the lightbox. I was in luck that Tarla is a keen analogue printer. We dusted off her fathers negatives with a soft brush and compressed air, and then tentatively placed the first negative (single cut) in to the negative carrier. After the first exposure and development, it was immediately apparent from viewing the first test strips that a thorough cleansing process was necessary. Through his negatives, though debris was not visible to the naked eye, it had accumulated on to the surface of the emulsion. As with the majority of archives, Masterjis negatives had not been kept in the most suitable of conditions: Tarla admitted that the archive was chaotic!

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

Masterji's studio is now run by Patel’s son Ravi, although, over the years, all of Masterji’s family have pitched in. The 94-year-old is taking things easy now. He spends his time watching cricket, and is looked after by his wife and children.

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

“He [Masterji] is incredibly well-known in the community and he deserves his time in the spotlight more than most photographers that I know of,” Tilley told Scroll.in. “Apart from being a successful photographer, he is a wonderful man and became a great friend to the city in England that he adopted; Coventry.”

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

Tilley has worked as a photographer since 1987, and was born in the West Midlands city of Coventry. The 48-year-old traces his lineage back to Bengaluru and New Delhi. His maternal grandfather, Bertrum Edwin Ebenezer Scott, an Anglo-Indian, was a press photographer with The Times of India newspaper.

Photo: Maganbhai Patel
Photo: Maganbhai Patel

“I can announce that they [the photographs] have been accepted to be shown during Focus Mumbai in 2017,” Tilley said. The Focus Photography Festival is a biennial festival in Mumbai dedicated to celebrating lens-based work from India and abroad.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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