Maganbhai Patel was born in the South Gujarat of India, he had worked hard as one of the eldest from his family to become a headmaster at a village school. This was not enough for him and the news from friends in England made him decide to travel. The journey was to take 20 days from the port of Bombay on a steamer cabin ship called the Jaljawahar. Arriving in the docks of Liverpool in January 1951, he came with a small brown metal case with a photograph of his mother tucked away into his belongings.
Like a lot of migrants coming into post war Britain, the jobs were manual and he was able to get work in factories, he settled at the General Electric Company (G.E.C) in Coventry. He did not shy away from this work and enjoyed working with machinery and the people around him. He also joined the Indian Workers Association and the G.E.C photography society during his time there.
Having regular work, allowed him to save up and buy another camera Box Brownie camera, and he had started to take photographs of what was around him and the friends he had made. His friends nicknamed ‘Master’ in reference to his former life as a school master, and as years went by this changed to ‘Masterji’.
Friends and friends of friends began to ask him to take their photographs, at first it was mostly single men who had come to England, to earn a wage and return home, but people had started to stay and were returning to England with their families or the new wife’s or even getting married in England. Temples in terrace houses and new places of worship, stores selling food from overseas were starting to become more common place in certain areas. Ramaben Patel, Masterji’s wife arrived in 1962, a year after my father had gone back to India to get married.
As Masterji became more popular with his photography, his work at the G.E.C was starting to fall behind, and instead of attending shift days, he often fell asleep. The factor foreman joked with him and about his hours, and it was then that he decided to open his photography studio in 1969. The studio is called ‘Master’s Art Studio’ and still functions today.
Masterji’s photography work is important, as it has recorded a view point of migrants from a fellow migrant during a time when this movement of people, from former colonised countries were coming to Britain to work and help rebuild after the war. His collection of work is a mix of early black and white photographs from the 1950s to vivid colour from the 1970s to 2000 – from studio portraits to that of weddings and private functions. Hidden between his commercial work is a recording of more intimate family life, that of his family growing up in England. These photographs also document the change in not only the photographic medium of film but to oncoming change from film to digital.
His photography captured people through a defining era, his early photographs influenced by Hollywood stars such as Rita Hayworth, to Richard Burton and Elvis Presley influenced lighting and background. Sitters gazed into the distance, in polished clothes and finery, hiding the hardship they faced looking towards a brighter future.
As colour photography came about, his portraits were capturing the young families and new generation of born to migrants that had settled in the city of Coventry. These vivid photographs are full of colour, determination and pride. Changing face of people owning the space they lived in.