Arts Illustrated

October 29, 2019

R. C. Mehta: Exploring the familiar and the Iconic

Showcasing the photographic works of R.C. Mehta, Kalakriti Art Gallery in Hyderabad opened its doors to a ‘visual’ path less taken

Team AI

Ram Chand Mehta was only seven when his elder brother, Amar Nath Mehta, set up the Mahatta Studio in a houseboat on river Jhelum in Srinagar in 1915 – the first Indian-run photo studio in Kashmir. R.C. Mehta, as he was more famously known, took charge of the studio in Srinagar at a crucial time – a year after Indian Independence in 1948, when Amar Nath opened a studio in Delhi and shifted there. The Mehtas have documented the Valley, its people and pristine landscapes for over a century. And from the late 1920s to the 1980s, R.C. Mehta played the unique role of being its witness (as local) and its agent (as a studio owner).

Featuring his large body of work, Kalakriti Art Gallery in Hyderabad recently hosted the show Exploring the Familiar and the Iconic. Marking the first of three exhibitions for Makers and Meanings: the 17th Krishnakriti Festival 2020, collectively titled Deconstructing Paradise: Images and Imaginations of Kashmir, the exhibition showcased Mehta’s black and white photographs covering the first four decades of his career.

Mehta began his craft within the commercial studio environment. But with time, with his own growth and the evolution of photographic technology, his works showed a marked shift from the colonial gaze, portraying a more dynamic sense of immediacy – transforming them into something more than just a personal archive. It becomes, instead, a consistent layer of photographic narrative that negotiates stereotypes set by early European photographers and responds to changes in aesthetics and markets with time. ‘His work, therefore, becomes a cornerstone for those interested in understanding how photography played an important role both for the visitors to the Mahatta studio, as well as for a larger public through the wide proliferation of R.C. Mehta’s work,’ said exhibition designer, Adira Thekkuveettil.

With a total of 123 photographs, covering a wide range of subjects, from the royalty of the region (Maharaja Hari Singh and son, Karan Singh), and the visits of Jawaharlal Nehru, to candid portraits of families and fantastic visuals of landmarks like the magnificent Dal Lake, Nanga Parbhat and Shalimar Bagh, Exploring the Familiar and the Iconic portrayed the significant influence Mehta had in the way Kashmir was viewed in the 20th century. Perhaps a necessary window today, even if of a very different time in history, to rebuild and remind ourselves of the emotive connection Kashmir has with her people.

All Images Courtesy of Mahatta Studio.

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