Masterji is a Coventry original, the art of photography his obsession for more than sixty years. He documented the South-Asian community in Coventry with a theatrical, playful eye that brought out the character of his customers and defines his style, and also reveals much about how a migrant community was keen to be portrayed.
Masterji's work is significant. His early work pre-dates the more celebrated photography of Vanley Burke, Pogus Ceaser and Keith Piper by at least twenty years. His explorations were extraordinary. No one else did it. Please do not underestimate the effort he made. In 1951, in a foreign culture, with racism accepted and the norm, Masterji began documenting something he could feel was vital. He kept to it for fifty years. Masterji knew that for non-white person to take the photograph, to own the means of reproducing the image, was significant because his sitters responded differently to him. Gone was a colonial formality. People could be themselves – and Masterji made them feel themselves more than anyone.
So through his photographs, which will live on in exhibitions, books and photographic collections, we can celebrate the master as a true teacher, a philosopher and gentleman. We are indebted to his teaching that above all, it's people that count. Rest in peace, Masterji.
Ben, Jason, & Mark
Masterji has his own website, managed by his daughter Tarla Patel on behalf of the Patel family.
Click here to go there, including getting a copy of his book.
The book includes an introduction by Dr Mark Sealy who highlights Masterji’s importance to British photographic history.
The exhibition in Coventry in November 2016 brought in many families to see their loved ones, and in some cases, their young selves. As word spread, thousands visited over just a few weeks. What people told us most was that Masterji made them feel like a film star. That for a minute, with the camera pointed at them, they were centre of the world.
The Box, Fargo Village, Coventry 3rd 23rd November 2016
Over 130 people a day visiting the exhibition, including many people from outside of Coventry. People were identified in the photographs: mothers, sisters, uncles, fathers, husbands.
The exhibition of 70 Masterji images, including hand made silver-gelatin prints by Jason Scott Tilley, and colour prints by Andrew Moore. They were framed in Coventry by Tony on Spon Street.
Visitors were able to take their selfies using Masterji's original props. This proved very popular on social media. Over the three weeks of the exhibition, #Masterji received over 900,000 interactions on Twitter alone.
Akara Art Gallery, Colaba, Mumbai 9th - 23rd March 2017
Masterji was invited to contribute to FOCUS Festival Mumbai 2017, a photographic biennale curated by Elsie Foster Vander Elst and Mathieu Foss. The trip was generously supported by Coventry City of Culture Trust, Roger Medwell and Gersh Subhra.
Masterji's work fitted nicely into the festival's theme of 'memory' as it reflected on the past of south-Asian migrants to Coventry, addressing issues of identity and belonging.
The photographs were curated by Jason Tilley of Photo Miners and Masterji's energetic daughter Tarla, and exhibited in the clean and air-conditioned space of Akara Art Gallery in Colaba, behind the world famous Gateway of India.
The response was amazing: so many people were delighted to see the photographs, and discussed their social impact as well as the art of the photographer. Lectures, walking tours and private discussions, as well as newspaper reports meant Masterji was on many lips.
Lightfield Festival, Hudson, New York, August 12th - September 30th 2017
Masterji was also invited to participate in the Lightfield Festival this year, his first exhibition in the USA. Thanks go to Anna Van Lenten for approaching Photo Miners, who were delighted to send the hand printed silver gelatin black and white prints to exhibit.