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‘Through the lens of Masterji’ – The Lost Generation photographer?

He liked to take pictures and started out with one of his mother in India before coming to the UK as we learn from the video discovers when it met photographer Maganbhai Patel’s daughter Tarla Patel…

By Suman Bhuchar

ONE OF THE TRUE pioneers of British photography has got to be Maganbhai Patel (1924-2018), affectionately known as ‘Masterji’ whose work is being celebrated through an exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park in Warwickshire, near Kineton, about 20 miles south of Stratford Upon Avon.

Masterji had over seven decades from 1950s onwards documented the lives of the South Asian community in Coventry where he made his home, but he only came into public consciousness in 2016 with his first solo show as part of Coventry’s bid to become UK City of Culture (which it won and currently holds the title).

Masterji (Maganbhai Patel) slef portrait
©MasterjiEstate met his daughter, Tarla Patel, who is an artist and archivist for the Masterji estate.

She told “My dad arrived in England in 1951 but his love for photography began in India. At the time they needed people in Coventry, so he ended up settling there.”

In 1961, he was joined by his wife, Ramaben and the couple had four children, Tarla’s sister, Kokila and her two brothers, Pankaj and Ravindra who still runs the studio, Master’s Art Studio, set up by their father in 1969 in the Foleshill area of the city.

Oli McCall, curator at Compton Verney believes that Masterji deserves wider recognition of his work and as an artist in his own right.
This exhibition which is only a fraction of the photos he took depict how the South Asian community developed over decades.

Mr and Mrs Khan by Masterji ©MasterjiEstate

The early photos are mostly of single men in taken in black and white, some dressed up so as to send a message to their families back home that they were doing well (!) even if they weren’t.

One of my favourite images is a black and white photograph of a mixed race couple, Mr and Mrs Khan taken in 1967 (see picture), that also shows relationships and harks back to realities of the time.

The photos then move on to pictures of children, families, wedding or passport photographs and he begins to use colour in his images as well as setting up shots in his studio with several different backdrops.

The exhibition is also accompanied with oral history recordings of some of the early subjects and runs until May 22 this year.

Masterji Self portrait – ©MasterjiEstate

You need to buy a ticket but it allows you access to the wonderful grounds and park designed by the foremost 18th century designed, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. It is great way of discovering some of the hidden history of the Asian community and enjoying a picnic!

‘Through the lens of Masterji’ – Compton Verney, Warwickshire CV35 9HZ (February 12) till May 22 Tuesdays to Sundays (10am-5pm)

This Saturday (April 9) Tarla Patel Polaroid Photography workshop where she will discuss some of the work exhibited and taken by her father – see here for further details –

ACV would like to thank the organisers of the venue for facilitating the press trip for this event.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture