Sooni Taraporevala’s photo exhibition reveals a heartwarming visual sojourn of Mumbai
In Tardeo, Mumbai, Cozy Building stands as tall as it did back in 1921—the year it was built. One of four buildings in the lane that are agreeably “Parsi,” it hosts conversations over newspapers and tea on its balconies even today.
“I can still sit on my parents’ balcony and make the same frame I did in 1980 with my photo evenings at Cozy Building,” said Sooni Taraporevala of how, in many ways, the city is still what it used to be in the ’80s. And it is seldom that a city goes back to being what it was once was, except for perhaps in old photographs.
In Sooni Taraporevala’s exhibition, “Home in the City: Bombay 1977 to Mumbai 2017” at the Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi, the images hail her as the city’s relentless documentarian. Curated by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, a rich landscape of photographs that is intrinsic to the city’s charm hang on the walls and rest in a book. Taraporevala began photographing the city in 1977 with her first camera, a Nikkormat, which was bought with money borrowed from her roommate at Harvard.
“After I repaid her, I took a leave of absence for a semester and returned home with my new camera and 50mm lens. The photos dated 1977 were taken at this time and I haven’t stopped since then. I think my eye is still the same, my style as well, as well as what interests me has remained the same. What has developed is my speed and technical skills,” said Taraporevala.
Taraporevala is known for the proximity she exhibits in her images, be it the subject or her own relationship with the place she chooses to portray. Her photographs of Mumbai are a rare document of the change it has seen, even in the most publicly frequented spaces.
In her book of photographs of the same name, Pico Iyer makes an astute observation, “The crowds, the public world, the shared dreams are all part of a sometimes devouring disorder that shows no signs of subsiding; but in the eyes and lives of individuals is a dignity, a resilience and a sweetness that nothing can erase.”
Be it the faceless, dismembered statues of Lord Marquis of Cornwallis (Governor General of India) and Queen Victoria or a blindfolded, young Irrfan Khan during a ‘Salaam Bombay!’ acting workshop in 1987, Taraporevala’s portraits reveal the layered, cultural and historical milieu of the city’s past and present.
The affectionate eye with which she chooses her moments is incredible and rare, also making her observation of the city somewhat apolitical. But then, that is also perhaps a larger reflection of the distance that the city’s cultural communities keep from the nation’s everyday affairs.
As Salman Rushdie writes in ‘Eyeblink Choices,’ of her work, “To photograph it over the metamorphic decades, while it transforms itself from one city to another, Bombay into Mumbai, is to make those instant decisions, both moral and artistic, every day.”
From unguarded moments on film sets to public events, Taraporevala’s eye is trained on the oddities of daily life — a trait that is rather particular to Mumbai and never really hidden from those who truly roam on its streets.
“In my experience it (Mumbai) has always been an extremely welcoming city for photographers,” said Taraporevala when asked if it was harder now to make photographs than before. But then, there is a telling photograph of the back of an old man walking on the pavement titled “After the festivities are over, Mumbai 2016” that hints at an odd distance, perhaps for the first time, between Taraporevala and her quiet, aged subject.
Change, after all, is inevitable, even in a photograph.
What: Home in the City, Bombay 1977 – Mumbai 2017, an exhibition of photographs by Sooni Taraporewala
When: 11am – 7pm, Monday to Saturday, till January 24
Where: Vadehra Art Gallery, D-40 Defence Colony
Nearest Metro Station: Lajpat Nagar