SANJOG MHATRE perches atop terraces of high-rise buildings, sometimes hanging precariously through a harness, balancing a camera and its tripod, to click photographs of the city’s skyline.
The 20-year-old is one of the few rooftop photographers of the city, chronicling its changing vertical expanses. For Mhatre, his job resulted more out of his love for tall buildings than photography.
As a child, this Nallasopara resident often visited his relatives in Lower Parel. “In 2006-07, the area saw a lot of construction of highrises. I would stare at them for how magnificent they looked. I began taking photographs of the buildings on my father’s phone which had a two megapixel camera,” Mhatre says.
It was one of his friends, who realised that his fascination for buildings clubbed with his sense of photography, made for a good combination.
Mhatre would get information from the Internet on the skyscrapers in the city, their construction status, their location. He then began visiting the buildings asking authorities to permit him to access their terraces to take photographs of the skyline.
Mhatre says that most authorities were apprehensive about giving access to the terrace. In 2015, Mhatre, by showing photographs that he had clicked of buildings from the ground, managed to convince the authorities of one building in Prabhadevi, around 250 metres in height, to let him access their terrace and take photographs.
Mhatre created a page on Instagram, called Towering Goals, and uploaded photographs that he managed to click through accessing high-rises. In 2017, one of his friends taught him how to operate a digital camera as well as editing and two others lent him their cameras, which landed him his first project by a real estate company. This involves taking photographs of the building projects as part of its sales poster.
“When I am working on it for my personal use, there is less pressure to get it right, so I take the creative liberty to take multiple shots from different angles. When it is a commercial shoot, there are specific requirements by the company. So, I work within the requirements asked by them. Yet, there is much to learn in it,” Mhatre says.
With his few assignments, Mhatre has brought his own digital camera in February this year, paying for it through monthly installments. He also intends to complete his Bachelors in Arts in Psychology, which he took a break from to pursue photography full-time. Now, armed with a wide-angle lens, his Canon camera and other equipment, Mhatre continues to scourge to find tall buildings to shoot the city from, both during the day and night, earning Rs 15,000-30,000 per project.
“The first time I went for a shoot in 2015, as soon as I stepped on the terrace, there were strong winds and I felt a thrill looking below from the edge of the building. I have gotten used to it now but it is still exciting when I find a new high-rise to take photographs of the city’s unexplored parts,” he says. In the three years since he began this, Mhatre says he has seen much of the city change.
“The city continues to grow vertically and yet the blue of the tarpaulin sheets on slums in the city can also be seen from top, showing the disparity. The infrastructure, including the roads, seem too small to cater to this growth and the traffic snarls can be seen and heard from a tall height too,” he laughs.
For now, Mhatre wants to continue taking photographs and expand his skills to include other cities as well and to enhance the popularity of his page. He also realises that the city’s landscape is forever changing and his photographs remain vital to record that change.
“When I was growing up, I would visit my relatives in Lower Parel and had seen chimneys of erstwhile mills being brought down to make way for buildings,” he says. His recalls that his fascination for tall buildings also began when he saw New York’s skyline in the film, Stuart Little. “I would love to see and photograph those buildings too,” he says.