Artists of Urban Change

The changing landscape and lifestyle of Bangalore and its people prompts a bunch of photographers to capture the phenomenon for posterity, for an exhibition on the same theme.

Urban changes photo exhibition sign

Urban Changes photo exhibition, 19th August 2008. Pic: Deepa Mohan.

If any city can claim to have changed drastically in the past few years, it will surely be Bangalore. The city’s constantly changing skyline speaks volumes for the social and economic changes that have seen Bangalore morph from a pensioner’s paradise to India’s IT capital. It was thus fascinating to see the photographs at the ‘Urban Changes’ exhibition which captured the spirit of a redefined city, among others. Organised by Max Mueller Bhavan at IndiraNagar, at the culmination of the Bangalore Walks programmes of Bangalore City Project, the exhibition highlighted the way lifestyles are changing across urban landscapes in India.

The show was the outcome of a photography workshop by the Berlin-based photographer, Andrea Kunzig, in Mumbai, in 2007 attended by the seven photographers who were showcased in ‘Urban Changes’ (three from Bangalore, one from Mumbai, two from Sri Lanka and one from Pakistan). Andrea also curated the exhibition, selecting the pieces to be displayed from the images that the participants created.

Mahesh Shantaram talking to visitors at the Urban Changes Exhibition

Mahesh Shantaram talking to visitors at the exhibition. Pic: DM.

Mahesh Shantaram, one of the Bangalore-based photographers, was US-based in a 9 to 5 job before he quit that to pursue photography. Shantaram earns his living primarily from wedding photography. He says that his involvement with the exhibition was very personal, and photographing for it with a passion "…would not work for me in any other city" but the one he grew up in. "I started out observing my own neighbours in Bangalore," he says, "and that became the focus of this show." He finds that the city has changed so rapidly that the changes were palpable within just a few years and hence, recording it was an interesting task. Shantaram’s photographs captured the relationships between people in a new middle-class locality and their environment.

Photograph at the Urban Changes Exhibition MMB

Photograph at the exhibition. Pic: DM.

Clare Arni, who, though British, has lived in Bangalore for 22 years and in Madurai before that, has a very positive perspective on the changes in Bangalore. "Urban changes are inevitable," she says. "I only wish Bangalore had more of an awareness of its cultural heritage, and would try to create the new without destroying the old." She fears that the vibrant life visible on the streets of Bangalore, will disappear completely. Clare focused on the silk weavers of Chickpet for the show. However, she says that though some people may be nostalgic of the past, she herself is excited about the vibrancy that she sees. "Bangalore is a layered city," she exclaims. “There are so many different strata of life, each seemingly a different world of its own. The city is evolving so rapidly, it’s an exciting place to be”.

Vivek M, one of the photographers of the Urban Changes Photo Exhibition

Vivek M, photographer at the exhibition. Pic: DM.

Vivek M, is a doctor-turned photographer who has lived in Bangalore all his life, feels a sense of ‘disconnection’ to the present-day urban scenario. He is not even 30, and yet he feels that the change has been rapid and widespread. "When I was a child growing up in Rajajinagar, a trip to my grandparents’ place in Yelahanka was a full-day trip," he reminisces; "we did not consider Yelahanka a part of Bangalore at all." Vivek took up documentation of the life at a shelter for the destitute; it was a process, he says, of seeing how the urban lifestyle has an impact on relationships between generations. "Changes in architecture and roads are evident, but changes in the dynamics between members of a family, because of the city living, are more subtle, and difficult to elicit" he says. "These changes in relationships are ‘under the blanket’, and I wanted to document them."

Sohail Abdullah and Clare Arni. Pic: DM.

Sohail Abdullah, a young photographer from Karachi, has been in Bangalore only for 35 days; therefore, if he lacks the knowledge to make comparisons with the present and the past, he also brings the freshness of a new eye to the urban landscape What are his thoughts about Bangalore? "The first thing," he smiles, "are the trees, and the greenery. Karachi is desert land, and certainly we have nothing like this there!" He has wandered a lot around the city in the time that he has been here.

Sohail Abdullah and Clare Arni

As Abdullah carries the images of this city back home and the others continue to work in Bangalore and document the lives and moments of its people and scenes, let us wish them success, and hope to see more of their work at exhibitions and shows such as the one Max Mueller Bhavan put up to encourage these artists.

In person – more about the four photographers

Vivek says that his parents were less than happy when he quit as a Urology intern in a reputed hospital to pursue his passion. "They were worried that I didn’t know my own mind," he shrugs. And yes, he agrees, the first year was financially very difficult, particularly as he also got married at the time. He has used his medical background to good effect. "I do work for ‘Housecalls’, a closed-circulation medical magazine," he smiles; "I often profile medical personnel, spending a lot of time to get to know them." He also works for Outlook Traveller.

Abdullah’s parents, however, were very supportive of his decision; his father had been "told to be a doctor" and had to live up to it, but when it came to his son, he backed him all the way.

Clare spent her childhood in Madurai, and even today, is fluent in Tamil. "I met and married an architect from Bangalore, and came to this city 22 years ago," she laughs. Since then, Bangalore has been home to her. "When I was in school," she says, "my father sent me to boarding school in England; I was so unhappy that I took the first flight back here!" In an interview with another magazine, she has described herself as ‘a foreigner in England’! Clare does a lot of documentary work for various NGO’s. Covering the fields of art, architecture, travel, social documentaries, and cultural heritage, her work keeps her fully occupied.

Clare Arni:
Vivek M:
Mahesh Shantaram:
Sohail Abdullah: (under construction)

Shantaram has taken up wedding coverage. "I realized that the quality of wedding photography here is abysmal, and saw that as an opportunity to earn from commercial photojournalism," he says. He takes his work as a kind of narrative of the wedding, and this bread-and-butter is what funds the art work he does. "It takes a long time to conceptualize, execute, edit, exhibit and then market my personal work," he adds; the work on the Urban Changes exhibition was done more than a year ago. "Wedding photography," he remarks, "provides me with approximately 70% of my income, but takes up only 30% of my time in a month!" That is an excellent time frame to pursue his personal interests in photography.

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