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Mitter Bedi

by Stella Loftus-Hills, MGA Curator

Taken from below, and looking up towards the sky, this black-and-white photograph shows an industrial pipe snaking its way through the picture plane and around the top of a factory chimney, which forms a vertical line within the lower half of the composition. Focusing more heavily on line, shape and form than the specifics of the time and place in which it was produced, this image verges on becoming an abstract design. It is a creative, unfamiliar view of what would otherwise be a mundane factory setting. The upward camera angle induces a sense of disorientation while also eliminating any unsightly or unwanted details from the scene, highlighting the grandeur and beauty of the subject matter.

The photograph is one of three in the Visions of India exhibition taken by Mitter Bedi (1926–1985). Bedi was an Indian commercial photographer who worked in Bombay (now Mumbai) from 1940 until his death, focussing primarily on industrial photography from the late 1950s onwards. A leader in his field, Bedi applied an internationalist aesthetic to his works, drawing on modernist photographic principles, including sharp focus, unusual camera angles, dramatic lighting and bold graphic compositions, to show newly-independent India as a modern, progressive, industrialised nation. He was idealistically and photographically motivated to move away from the exotic and pictorialist depictions of the country that had dominated earlier photographic representations, especially during the colonial period.

The title of this photograph indicates it was taken at, and would have been commissioned by Hindustan Lever Limited, which by the 1960s was a leading manufacturer of consumer goods in India, such as detergent, soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and other personal care items.

Two years before Bedi took this photograph, Wolfgang Sievers (1913–2007) created MGA collection work, ‘Sulphuric acid plant at Electrolytic Zinc, Hobart, Tasmania’ (1959) in Australia. Like Bedi, Sievers was a commercial photographer who specialised in industrial photography. And like Bedi, he applied modernist aesthetic principles to his works, striving to create images that would be instrumental in the formation of a new vision of Australia as a modern industrial nation. Originating in Europe in the early twentieth century, modernist ideas and photographic visions came to other parts of the world, such as India and Australia, via many routes. While Sievers brought his knowledge of Modernism with him when he migrated to Australia from Europe in 1938, Bedi was likely introduced to these techniques through publications, such as the range of international photography magazines available in India. Bedi was also greatly influenced by the work of American Industrial photographer Arthur d’Arzien (c. 1930–2002), whom he met in Bombay in 1959.

Image: Mitter BEDI
Hindustan Lever pipeline to success  1961
gelatin silver print
100.0 x 75.0 cm

courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)


Image: Wolfgang SIEVERS

Sulphuric acid plant at Electrolytic Zinc, Hobart, Tasmania 1959
gelatin silver print
46.2 x 59.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
MGA 1983.14
reproduction courtesy of National Library of Australia Pictures Branch

Image: Installation view of Visions of India: for the colonial to the contemporary featuring artworks by Mitter Bedi, Monash Gallery of Art, 2021 Photo: Lauren Dunn

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