AN ELDERLY photographer who has documented the arrival and lives of South Asian immigrants to Coventry is having his work exhibited in November.
Maganbhai Patel, better known as Masterji, will be have his work displayed for the first time ever at the The Box at Fargo Village as part of Coventry’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021.
The exhibition, which will launch on Thursday, November 3, will feature around 70 photographs that were taken between Masterji’s home studio and his established Hillfields studio between 1951 and 1990.
Masterji moved to Coventry from Surat in India in the early 1950s with little more than a box brownie camera.
With a keen eye for photography, he began to picture the local community and opened a portrait studio in Stoney Stanton Road – which he ran from the 1960s to the 1990s.
After discovering his work during the Imagine Hillfields exhibition in 2015, Photo Archive Miners (PAM) decided to curate the photographs and provide the 94-year-old with his first ever exhibition.
Jason Tilley, of PAM, said: “The work of Masterji is of huge significance not just for Coventry but the UK because it’s a window into the lives of people as they arrived here and the image they wanted to send home.
“Many of the pictures were taken as portraits or for their official documentation so you see a very formal image.
“In other photos you see a more laid back style and also some of the difficulties they faced – it really documents a very important part of the city’s history and its cultural diversity.”
Since organising the exhibition, PAM have managed to track down hundreds of photographs and are carefully restoring them to their former glory with the help of Masterji’s daughter, Tarla Patel.
Jason added: “He was a headmaster back in India – that is where the name Masterji came from.
“As a mark of respect, that is what members of the community continued to call him long after he stopped being a teacher.
“In certain parts of the city, he is quite famous because so many people visited his studio.
“We have been out for a drink with him and people still recognise him – they will come and say ‘hello Masterji!’
“I am part Indian myself and lived there for many years so on a personal level I am very proud to be curating this exhibition and really bringing the work of Masterji back to life.”
Since announcing its intentions to become UK City of Culture in 2021, the Coventry City of Culture Trust has been formed and a launch event has been held at the Godiva Festival in July 2016.
Coventry City Council, Warwick University and Coventry University are all providing significant support to the bid.
Laura McMillan, Coventry City of Culture trust manager, said: “Through the bid for City of Culture, it’s important to be able to show what Coventry is capable of if we were to be successful.
“The Masterji exhibition is a great example of the city’s diversity, some of the challenges that sections of the community have faced over the years and the part that art and culture can play in people’s lives.”