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A Lost City Comes Alive in Vivid Photographs

Prominent photographers look back at Bangalore through the lens of nostalgia and wonder, reports Reema Moudgil

Published: 03rd May 2014 08:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd May 2014 08:24 AM   |  A+A-

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When Vivek Muthuramalingam created a Facebook page called Bangalore: A Visual Anthology (www.facebook.com/bangalore.anthology), the response to his work was emotionally charged. He hadn’t quite realised how much of Bangalore had seeped into his subconscious. In his words: "I was born on Sampige Road, grew up playing marbles in the by-lanes of Rajajinagar and visited my grandparents in Cox Town once a week. Our family then decided to ‘get away’ from the bustling city and move closer to Yelahanka for some peace and quiet, but little did they know that this would soon be the epicentre of development after the new airport was established. The dormant stories of my childhood days rushed back to me when I turned my camera towards the city. “

He started documenting street life and when he started sharing these images on his page the photographs became a catalyst for people to share their own memories of the city - it turned into a collective nostalgia project. “I started receiving emails from not just old Bangaloreans but also from recent migrants who said that the images ‘helped them discover the city’. A professor at Stanford wanted to talk to me about the art scene of Bangalore, a writer from Mumbai who is writing a fictional piece with Bangalore as a backdrop, shared a draft, a theatre artiste invited me to her house off St Mark’s Road where her family had spent more than 80 years and let me have the pleasure of photographing it before it was going to be razed for good. A traveller said that my page had became a guidebook of sorts!”

Vivek’s need to document a fast changing city is echoed by many city-based photographers and pages like Bangalore- photos from a bygone age and Open Show Bangalore are all looking back in wonder at landmarks, spaces and professions that have disappeared.

Clare Arni, possibly one of Bangalore’s most widely published photographer has been clicking the city for over two decades and wonders often at the ‘modern urban politics’ that disenfranchises trees, heritage buildings and people because their crafts and skills have become obsolete. A few years ago, she exhibited a series on street art and another on disappearing professions. In her work, Bangalore’s street spaces are a microcosm of contrasts between high-rising ambition and poor vendors, neon signboards and wall murals, religious processions, civic chaos and individual lives.

Not all photographers like what Bangalore is becoming. Young Vivek Mathew says, “I dislike the fact that there is no visible law enforcement. Visually speaking, I find chaos and hanging wires no matter where I go to click pictures. I miss the landmarks of old Bangalore - St Joseph’s Arts & Science College where I did my PUC, the old India Coffee House on MG Road, the MG Road walk way which has become the Metro station now. “

Vivek Muthuramalingam really misses Mr Shanbhag’s Premier Bookshop with its ‘haphazardly arranged books and the discounts with every purchase’ on Museum Road and took one of the last photographs of the store.

He says, “I also miss  Dewar’s Bar that was an interesting mix of daily-wage workers and chauffeur driven executives. I photograph anything that has a story to tell. I am also looking at Bangalore’s fringes to capture the formation and evolution of new neighbourhoods.”

Photographer Krishanu Chatterjee came to Bangalore 13 years ago when it was calmer, greener and full of colonial buildings. His work now captures the isolation of the individual in an over-crowded city- A beggar with a dog; A sleeper curled up in a drain pipe.

He often visits Bangalore’s busiest streets late at night to capture their desolation. One of his most moving tributes to Bangalore’s vanishing landmarks is the visual documentation of Plaza cinema’s demolition.

He walked among the debris to recall the building that since its inception in 1936 had been a favourite entertainment haunt for locals. It had its last screening on March 17, 2005.

He rues, “The old wold charm is gone. I have a problem with a city which doesn’t know how to preserve its heritage. By clicking the urbanscape and a few old spaces, I leave it to the viewers to choose which city they would love to belong to. I miss Plaza Theatre. My series,  The Last Show is a painful witness to the demolition and is my silent protest. “ Photographer Shalini Sehgal studied architecture and then turned to photography. She spent five years in Bangalore and the city features extensively in her works. She says, “Bangalore is fascinating as it is transmuting right in front of our eyes. Like all metropolises, Bangalore too is morphing into a technologically advanced city but is much less soothing to our senses. It is turning into a chaos which Bombay represented. Yet, I keep looking for the aesthetics that are still alive. Its historical architecture fascinates me. I try and capture light, and what it does to a frame as it falls on a building facade, bringing to fore its colour, depth and texture.” Trees, columns, door or window openings, stone steps, overlooked details in the city’s unseen pockets fascinate her. What she dislikes is, “The little legibility in terms of a homogenous architectural style which contemporary India can be proud of.” She would like a lot more initiative towards keeping heritage, vernacular crafts alive. She would like Bangalore to be a city, “That tells its historical story through its buildings because that in turn gives insight into who its people are.” Bangalore in the pictures of its past and present reminds Shalini of Susan Sontag’s quote about a certain sense of the pathos of history and the ravages of time in fragments, that once belonged to a city in harmony with itself. A city that was whole before change walked in and broke it into disjointed pieces.

 



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