The Patel from Coventry

Mar 09, 2017, 00:08 IST | Benita Fernando

One of two best picks at FOCUS festival is a travelling exhibition of pictures by a Gujarati documenting the first immigrants in Coventry

A band named Parvanna at Masterji's for a studio shot that they could use as an advertisement in the papers. Pics courtesy/Maganbhai Patel
Dated: 1957-1968 Home studio: Widdrington Road. This is a portrait of Gordanbhai Bh­­­akta. A guest of Maganbhai's, he travelled from Preston to see him, and stayed for two weeks. He travelled back to Northampton and eventually moved to America.

"My father loved taking selfies," says photographer Tarla Patel as she points to a set of photos at the entrance of Akara Art Gallery. Striking a pose in those black and white photographs, her father Maganbhai Patel, now 94, is the man to whom a touring exhibition is dedicated. Masterji, which opens this evening at Akara Art as part of FOCUS Photography Festival, is a series of archival studio and candid photographs by Maganbhai, who arrived in Coventry in the UK from Surat in 1951. The biennial photo fest that celebrates lens-work from India and abroad is scheduled between March 9 and 23 at venues across the city.

Dated: 1957-1968 Home studio: Widdrington Road. This is a portrait of Gordanbhai Bh­­­akta. A guest of Maganbhai's, he travelled from Preston to see him, and stayed for two weeks. He travelled back to Northampton and eventually moved to America.
A band named Parvanna at Masterji's for a studio shot that they could use as an advertisement in the papers. Pics courtesy/Maganbhai Patel

The moniker 'Masterji' alludes to Maganbhai's former occupation as a school headmaster. Working later in a factory, Maganbhai saved up for a Kodak Brownie camera and a studio named Master's Art Studio. Here, many migrant families like his, from across the Indian Subcontinent would head for a formal shoot to either send back home or to remember an occasion. "Before mum could join him, my father stayed with Italians and Jamaicans in a hostel. He shot foundation stones being laid by migrants settling in Coventry," recalls Patel.

Maganbhai Patel
Maganbhai Patel

The result - shots at his studio and the informal ones of his family - ran into thousands. While many negatives of the studio shots had been disposed by Maganbhai, there were hundreds that had made their way into the 21st century that Patel and co-curator and photographer Jason Tilley had to sift through. "You cannot go anywhere in Coventry without hearing about him," shares Tilley, who belongs to a collective called Photo Archive Miners, which re-purposes photographic archives for public projects.

Jason Tilley and Tarla Patel at Churchill Chambers, Colaba. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Jason Tilley and Tarla Patel at Churchill Chambers, Colaba. Pic/Bipin Kokate

The exhibition, which was first shown last November at the Fargo Creative Village, is a subtle comment on migrant communities. Patel says, "When we first held the exhibition, some recalled how my father said we looked like film stars. He knew how to get them to pose perfectly. He'd say, 'This is a memory for you and a memory for me as well.'"

ON: Today, 11 am to 6.30 pm (Tuesday to Saturday)
AT: Akara art, 32 Mereweather Road, Colaba.
CALL: 22025550

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