Madan Mahatta's collection of photographs captures the making of modern India.
“Delhi Modern: The Architectural Photographs of Madan Mahatta”, curated by Ram Rahman, is the latest exhibition at Photoink, a gallery exclusively meant for photography exhibitions in the Capital. This one is as much a revelation of an unrecognised talent as it is a lament reminding the viewers about the glorious period in the Indian architecture.
Ram Rahman, son of architect Habib Rahman and a photographer himself, has brought together a splendid collection of photographs that capture the making of modern India. The Nehruvian era was filled with hope and promise of a new India and the buildings of this time came to symbolise it.
Madan Mahatta studied photography in England in the early 1950s and joined the family-run Mahatta Studios on returning to India in 1954. He introduced negative-positive colour printing in India. Though he worked in other genres as well — dance, portraiture, theatre — his architectural pictures were his best work, according to Ram. “Being an architectural photographer myself, I saw how good this work was,” says Ram.
Working closely with two generations of India's best known modern architects like Achyut Kanvinde, Ajoy Choudhury, Charles Correa, Habib Rahman, Jasbir Sawhney, J.K. Chowdhury, Joseph Allen Stein, Kuldip Singh, Raj Rewal, Ram Sharma, Ranjit Sabhiki and designers Mini Boga and Riten Mozumdar, Mahatta recorded Delhi right during the Nehruvian modernism.
The exhibition displays his images of landmark structures like Sapru House, India International Centre, British Council, LIC, NDMC, Syrian Orthodox Church, Ford Foundation, Bahai Temple, Asian Games village, Nehru Pavilion at the International Trade Fair ground besides photos of their creators and architects at their homes. “He was the only photographer working with a Linhof camera, which had full shifts and tilts with a wide lens, so he could do pictures with no perspective distortions. By shooting with the architects he learned about light and volume and the best position for his camera. His pictures are outstanding not only in an Indian context, but in the international scene too,” explains the curator adding that, while some images have been printed in architecture journals or magazines and others in books, they have never been shown together as a body of work on architecture, and never in an exhibition.
Through the exhibition, Ram also pays a tribute to the great movement in architecture breaking the shackles of revivalism. “In many ways it places this work before the public again. This was a high moment in Indian architecture and because of various reasons...the chief being a total collapse of vision among our ruling politicos and also a general loss of identity in our culture on a broad level ... this tradition died.”
Bottomline: The Nehruvian era was filled with hope and promise of a new India and the buildings of this time came to symbolise it.
What: Delhi Modern: The Architectural Photographs of Madan Mahatta
Where: Photoink, MGF Building, Ground Floor, 1, Jhandewalan, Faiz Road, New Delhi.
When: Till June 21