Blog post, Exhibition reviews
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Masterji of Coventry

Jason Scott Tilley, a photographer from Coventry, first properly heard of Masterji from his daughter Tarla Patel, though he had seen him around previously as they shared the same processing house.

Subsequently, working with Masterji and his daughter what Jason discovered was a photographer, previously little known outside of his own community in Coventry, together  with a fascinating collection of pictures providing an insight into the migrant South East Asian community in Coventry reaching back into the 50’s.

Maganbhai Patel, better known as Masterji migrated to Coventry from his native Gujarat, Indias most western state,  in the 50’s. Keen to follow his passion for photography he set up a studio in his house and started to produce images of his family and friends within his community.

You can read here the full background on Masterji written by the curator and producer of this exhibition, Jason Tilley. It’s a heartening story about one man’s passion for photography.

The exhibition I visited -now closed – showed 100 or so prints, some in colour, of people in this community, some dating back to the early 60’s. Over the years Masterji and his wife have disposed of much of his stock of negatives. ‘They needed the room’ says Jason. Jason suspects tens of thousands of images have been consigned to the waste bins. A sad loss in my opinion. What remains are images in which Masterji has an invested emotional tie.

“He retained these images because they are important to him.”
Jason Tilley 2016

Together with Masterji’s daughter, Tarla Patel, herself a photographer, Jason spent hours washing and cleaning negatives before printing them in the darkroom for this exhibition. The result is clear. The effort was more than worth it. A fine set of images  defining an era which would have otherwise been lost to us has now been saved and made public.

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Masterji’s style has been described as ‘playful’. For me it’s more naïve, perhaps deliberately so, akin to LS Lowry in its simplicity. There is no artifice. No obsession with precise lighting, nor with the ultra-sharp perfect images we see today from the gear obsessed self-described photographers. Just people being shown as they wished to be seen. There is something refreshing about the images. They are one man’s view of the community in which he lives. And as such are a rare insight. An insight without the filter of pretension.

The exhibition in Coventry closed yesterday the 20th November. I understand the work has been accepted for the Focus Photography Festival in Mumbai 9-23 march 2017, the theme of which is Memory. Which seems very apt don’t you think? And who knows where else it may go? What I do know is it’s worth seeing. Especially if you want your photographic compass re-setting.

Lastly, if there is a book being produced from this show then put me down for an early copy.

PDBarton November 2016
All images unless otherwise stated are copyright Masterji 2016.

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