Lilavati Lalbhai Library, CEPT University, Ahmedabad

Madan Mahatta (1932–2014), a Kashmir-born lensman settled in New Delhi, took his family empire in commercial photography to an unexpected direction: documenting the modernizing architecture of the city, capturing the euphoria and confidence of the new-born nation. India after Independence, under the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was embarking on a massive building project in the new capital, which was in dire need of new infrastructure, and was building institutions for the new nation – for the arts, sciences, agriculture, education, the press and other institutions of governance. Madan Mahatta was one of the only photographers to get professional training abroad, as most in India had apprenticed with older photographers or in studios. The timing of his return and the fact that he started photographing architecture seriously was fortuitous. His photographs are classic architectural photographs, most without people. He worked with the architects to understand the changing light and also to understand the spaces they had created. Yet he brought his own photographic understanding to his pictures - often shooting space at a diagonal and including foreground details to show spatial depth, making a graphically complex image - which conveyed the intention of the architect.

 

Within the long span of decades, following the tides of the Nehruvian era, Madan diligently recorded Delhi’s changing face of built environments and iconic constructions, thereby creating a rare archive of India’s post-colonial modernity. Almost exclusively shot in black and white, this series of photographs brought out the stark contrasts and nuanced gradations between architectural labour and spectacle, dusty processes and refined elevations. Mahatta’s close association with numerous renowned architects including Charles Correa, AP Kanvinde, Kuldip Singh, Habib Rahman and Raj Rewal, partaking in historical projects like the Hall of Nations and the Asian Games Village, narrates one of the most eventful and exciting episodes of India’s modernism.

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