City of shadows
Architect and photographer Robert D Stephens captures Mumbai's vertical growth by juxtaposing 18th-century traveller accounts with its skyline in 12 black-and-white frames
How did the idea to play with shadows using aerial Mumbai as your muse, emerge?
As Mumbai's skyline saw a sharp spike in vertical growth over the last few years, so grew the idea of Mumbai as a city of shadows. The two are directly proportional to each other: vertical growth means longer shadows and taller silhouettes - a new visual layer of contrasts that did not exist three or four years ago.
1500 Year Sunrise. Like his previous series such as Mumbai Articles and Mumbai North, this one too tracks the pollution levels on the date of each photograph, as recorded by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board. Pics/Robert d Stephens
Tell us about the 'Firangi Chronicles' tagline for this exhibition? Was it easy to source archival material from early visitors to Bombay?
Eighteenth century Firangi Chronicles of Bombay provide an extreme contrast (and in some cases, extreme similarities) to 21st-century photographs. Archival excerpts were sourced from RP Karkaria's 1915 book The Charm of Bombay, a well researched collection of more than 200 descriptive accounts of the city.
Interestingly, all of Karkaria's 17th and 18th-century literary accounts of Bombay are attributed to firangis - foreigners whose experiences with the city were so striking as to necessitate being recorded for posterity.
Robert d Stephens
In the exhibition's context, Firangi Chronicles are metaphorical shadows: the artistic outcome of contact with the city from centuries past. In the same way that shadows stretch one's experience of an object or place, these 200 to 300-year-old metaphorical shadows stretch the memories one typically associates with various parts of the city. Essentially, the two layers are paired together to extend meanings and imaginations of the megacity. In addition, the works displayed are the product of firangis (I'm an American citizen). In that sense, the exhibition reveals the versatility of Mumbai, in how it can play host to artists of foreign nations separated by hundreds of centuries, and never grow weary.
Aerial photography is your thing; so when you decided to focus on shadows for this exhibition, what challenges did you face?
In some ways, Mumbai Shadows is like looking for the effects of the city -compositions created or inspired on account of the unique physical and geographical urban form. Shadows - in a literal sense, find form in direct consequence of the city's physical presence. At a metaphorical level, the results of the city are found in other fluid forms, such as inspired literature or art.
TILL: March 23, 11 am to 7 pm
AT: ARTISANS' Staircase Gallery, 52 - 56, VB Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort.