On the inset of a 12×12 mount, sits a black-and-white photograph. It is a print of Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda from the 1900s, a time when the iconic statue of the horse, which led to its name, still held fort at the site. Another print shows the Taj Mahal Hotel, as it once stood on its own, before the tower was constructed as an extension of the property. Almost 75 such prints are a part of Dinodia Photo Library’s ongoing photo exhibition of a vintage Bombay, where change in the city’s landscape and life emerges as a common theme.
The exhibition is on at the Nariman Point gallery, which was founded four months ago by award-winning photographer Jagdish Agarwal. It is the first in the city to exclusively showcase and sell photographs. For Agarwal, who has curated the exhibit, on till July 17, from the private collections of Ajay Goyal, Anil Dave and Jehangir Sorabjee, the photographs symbolise both nostalgic and aesthetic value. “The buildings — most of them — still stand the same today. But the idea is to show change through a certain element that is no longer present. A tram, a bullock cart, or even a street lamp that would be once turned on and off by a man each evening and morning — there is a different story to each image,” says Agarwal, who sifted through nearly a thousand photos for the show.
Taken shortly after the inception of photography, using plate cameras, the images do not fall short of exhibiting technical brilliance either. “There’s a certain sharpness to these photos. The photographer would have probably left his house with only one plate, which he would have exhausted trying to shoot one picture. So every photograph required a lot of thought before it was clicked,” explains Agarwal.
Developed from originals that were produced by the British over a century ago, the images belong to a time when the purpose of photography was limited to documentation. As college students come in and claim to see a “Bombay we never knew”, an older audience recognises the many sites and scenes that have been captured — the city before its present day caravan of taxis, tempos, wires and crowds arrived.