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Masterji

Creating a publication for a lifetime of photography work.

Written and produced by Tarla Patel and Photo Archive Miners

Polaroid self portrait by Masterji

Maganbhai 'Masterji' Patel arrived in Coventry in 1951 and dedicated the rest of his life to working as a photographer in the city.

I had met Masterji's daughter Tarla Patel some years ago and discussed producing a publication of his work. Some years later Tarla joined forces with Photo Archive Miners to begin work on a book of the Masterji archive.

This was a sensitive project to be involved in — Masterji was approaching the later stages of his life and having worked outside of the mainstream (largely white/male) photographic community for the majority of his creative career, it was a story that had to be told with both care and love.

Building the book

Publishing an archive of 50 years of photography is something that takes time and conscious effort.

Jason Scott Tilley is a master printer having spent several decades as an art photographer, and his work in printing and digitising the archive was vital in getting the images in a shape for the project.

I joined the project at the point that a rough edit had been produced, and I was fortunate to be able contribute to the final sequencing for the book.

Editing Masterji's archive

Working through the edit with Jason Scott Tilley (L) and Tarla Patel (R)

I have worked with Ian on two photography projects and my most trusted project of designing a book that would immortalise my father’s photography, the Masterji book. Ian was cornerstone in designing the book, he is calm, clear headed and will suggest better ways of doing things. My father was delighted with the book, it was a book that he was proud of.

— Tarla Patel

The design

Masterji gave us a clear idea of the style he wanted from a book. Prior to leaving India he had worked as a teacher, and he talked of his love of the canvas-bound textbooks with foil-blocked titles, something he considered to be a 'proper' book.

This made the thinking around the book design simple, and made sure that the focus would be around producing something that exudes quality.

The printing of the book was tasked to master bookmaker Rik van Leeuwen of Wonderful Books.

Masterji book

The legacy

The book of Masterji's archive was published in late 2017. The launch was widely circulated by the press and included features from the BBC and The Guardian, along with numerous regional news platforms.

Masterji passed away in early 2018 at the age of 96.

Masterji on the BBC website
Masterji with his camera collection

Maganbhai 'Masterji' Patel