Maganbhai Patel was affectionately known as Masterji
For most people, reaching the age of 90 heralds a time when life really starts to slow down.
But Maganbhai Patel – also known as Masterji – is not most people. A renowned photographer from Coventry who has been documenting the lives of south Asian families for more than 50 years, he is now holding his first-ever exhibition – at the age of 94.
The exhibition is a collection of 70 photographs Masterji took between the 1960s and 1990s, which reveal what life was like for people who had recently emigrated to the UK.
It’s a story that Masterji is able to relate to – he arrived in Coventry from Surat, Gujarat, in 1951. Armed with just a box brownie – one of the first Kodak cameras ever
made – Masterji gave up his role as a schoolteacher in India to focus on building a photography business.
His studio is still open and is being run by his son Ravindra.
Masterji said: “There was no other Indian photographer in the city. I was the first. I made people happy – they liked me. I am very proud. I always enjoyed photography but didn’t expect this to happen.”
As well as portraits of his family, Masterji documented ordinary families – like the bus conductor Mr Khan – who were living in the area. One of the exhibition’s curators, Jason Tilley, told Eastern Eye: “On the first day of the exhibition, a lady came in. The first picture that she saw was of her father and she immediately burst into tears. It was amazing to see how quickly these pictures triggered a reaction.”
Despite being a photographer in the city for so many years, Masterji’s work is on display only now as part of a wider campaign by Coventry, which is bidding to be the UK’s city of culture in 2021.
Tilley added: “An exhibition isn’t always the end goal for photographers – what Masterji has built up is a successful photography business that’s still going today.
“His work is of huge significance not just for Coventry but the UK also because it’s a window into the lives of people as they arrived here and the image they wanted to send home. In some photos, you see a more laid-back style and also some of the difficulties they faced, so it documents a very important part of the city’s history and its cultural diversity.”
The exhibition of Masterji’s photographs is on at The Box, Fargo Village, Coventry, until November 20