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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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

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Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

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At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.