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Decisive moment

Two stately houses close to the Rashbehari Avenue crossing of Satish Mukherjee Road. Both with porte-cocheres, one with “Rajasthani” architectural elements, the other more westernised. The groundfloor of the latter has been turned into a gallery where the black-and-white photographs of Christopher Taylor (a work by him on the left), an English photographer based in Arles in France, will be exhibited in four separate spaces from Wednesday evening.

The floors are marble, the furniture, including a four poster, is of dark teak. Stained glass adds touches of colour to the partitions and skylights near the grand staircase. Last Thursday, the photographs, including some huge blow-ups of Calcutta buildings, streets and people, in black frames are being hung on the walls and arranged casually on the furniture in intimate clusters. The deafening drone of a drill shatters the silence trapped within this gracious building of the 1930s surrounded by tall trees.

Silence is a vital element of Taylor’s photographs. Taylor has been visiting India for the past seven years and has travelled extensively in remote areas of China and held exhibitions there on the Chinese government’s invitation. He has an uncanny knack for capturing majestic buildings located in the busiest districts of Calcutta, at moments when they seem to drop their guard, and suddenly look vulnerable in the solitude that shrouds them.

The venue being readied for the exhibition. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha

Taylor, an exhibition of whose photographs was organised at the British Council some time ago, and who held a successful show in New Delhi earlier this year, has taken innumerable photographs of the haughtiest colonial buildings surrounding Dalhousie Square, has ventured deep north into the stately homes of the Tagores and the Ghoshes at Pathuriaghat, and is also familiar with Rani Rashmoni’s palace in Janbazar.

Almost every winter he would descend on the city lugging his large studio camera and smaller, decades-old Rolliflex. As the crowds gathered around him, it would take him at least half an hour to set up the camera. Suspense would build up as he put his head under a piece of black cloth and tried to get his focus perfect. The shutter would click at the most unexpected moment, and much to the disappointment of the rubbernecks, he would pack up and leave.

In this exhibition, organised by Tasveer in collaboration with Seagull, Taylor himself creates what Henri Cartier Bresson called the “decisive moment”. The gravitas of these buildings is unmistakable but they are shorn of their forbidding stateliness. Currency Building is open to the sky. The atrium of Mackinnon Mackenzie building is reduced to a heap of rubble. He is intrigued but not impressed by these symbols of power. It is a pleasure to catch every detail and the subtle gradation of greys in these silver gelatine prints.

However, when he photographs the passersby every fleeting emotion and gesture is registered on the bromide – commuters wait anxiously for the bus to arrive, a man sits like a king on the steps of the Standard Chartered bank building. Taylor stills time. His photographs arrest its flow.

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