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And consumed by a city

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IT CAN'T ALL BE STEEL AND CONCRETEThe friendliness of a city and its creative community can take a city forward, says photographer Mahesh BhatPhotos (cover and centrespread): Bhagya Prakash k.
IT CAN'T ALL BE STEEL AND CONCRETEThe friendliness of a city and its creative community can take a city forward, says photographer Mahesh BhatPhotos (cover and centrespread): Bhagya Prakash k.

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The Bangalore-based photographer, who's lived here for 25 years now, in areas as diverse as Malleswaram and Victoria Layout and over a decade now in Kodihalli (near Nrityagram) on the city's outskirts, says the trigger for the book came from Nandan Nilekani, then Infosys CEO, who had asked Bhat if Bangalore could become a world city? Bhat also got thinking on the lines of economist Richard Florida's idea of creativity and the Creative Class being the economic driver for a city's growth — in the context of Bangalore, he decided it wasn't panning out that way. He had worked on a book on the city earlier — “Bangalore- Scenes from an Indian City” in 1994. The second book is his personal take on the city's changes and journeys, and yes, the photographs show the change very subtly, he admits. People may in general hang on nostalgically to the past, he admits, but that's not the way he thinks, he is also willing to say. “There's room for every kind of expression…I only hope it comes out of a decent amount of thought.”

Bhat has photographed for periodicals and corporations from over 20 countries. “I was doing my BSc in physics, chemistry and mathematics when my cousin Rajendra Kumar introduced me to photography. In class 10 I'd won the National Merit Scholarship and the thousand rupees per year was spent on photography! I had no godfather; I worked with an advertising photographer where I picked up skills like studio lighting,” Mahesh recalls the beginnings of his affair with the lens. He used to publish in Udayavani, Sudha, Taranga, Newstime ; he also freelanced for India Today for a while. “I moved to documentary filmmaking because I didn't want to work for a newspaper. Freelancing didn't pay well those days. But when the world of the Internet opened up, I started getting a lot of international work, and from 2003 till date, I've been commissioned work from Mexico to Australia. Now, I also do corporate work.”

Growing beyond a book

Mahesh's previous books include “Karnataka” (1998) and “Unsung” (2007). “Unsung” was about the heroes of India who went unnoticed — people who contributed to society against personal odds. The book helped raise over Rs. 80 lakh for the causes of these heroes. It also went on to become a lecture series at IIM-B. The second book in the series will be released later this year. Mahesh also published a pioneering magazine on visual thinking called Light in the late 90s, which is still remembered by many in the field.

Largely self-taught, Mahesh says he wanted to study in New York 25 years ago but couldn't afford it. “But now I'm designing a photography course at Symbiosis! In my days there wasn't any good school of photography in India and we had to make a huge effort to go out and meet senior practitioners.”

With most photography companies the world over stopping the manufacture of film rolls and roll-based cameras, what is the world going to miss in photographs? Mahesh who moved to digital photography about six years ago, says: “With digital cameras it's easier to shoot good pictures. Cameras these days do a lot for you. But what is not good with today's photography is the lack of craftsmanship. Where is fine art photography? Where is the artist? In Carnatic music, there is the concept of manodharma (creative perception of the individual), which is lacking today in photography. But in the earlier days, while in the dark room, a lot of what I did came from my mind. The quality of photography may be better but the ability to express yourself is lacking.”

Mahesh has done an entire book, “Unsung”, in black-and-white because the stark subject of the book demanded it. What is the appeal of B&W photography, one wonders, because no one is spared its charm. “I have a theory why people like it. You don't generally see things around you in black-and-white, so this touches people more. It naturally appeals to you. When colour photography started out, there was no good developing and printing technology available. In fact, good colour photography is very difficult…But then, it's decided by your subject. For instance, I wouldn't do a book on Bangalore in black-and-white; it's all about colour.”

People are scared of change…you always want to go back to your mother's womb…it's a psychological thing

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