Photo Archive Miners are sad to learn of the death of Masterji. He was 96.
The first time we met Masterji he was humble and graceful, quiet and attentive. The sparkle in his eye, toothy grin and his soft handshake made us feel quite special. As with most emotions, it’s hard to put to words. We were a little elated by the attention, by his soft command that right now we were the most important thing in the room.
We began to work with him and his family on his archive in 2015. Looking through his amazing photographs we could see that our experience was all too common. The sitters in his photographs were just like us. This was his gift.
The exhibition in Coventry in November 2016 brought in many families to see their loved ones, and in some cases, their young selves. As word spread, thousands visited over just a few weeks. What people told us most was that Masterji made them feel like a film star. That for a minute, with the camera pointed at them, they were centre of the world.
Masterji’s work is significant. His early work pre-dates the more celebrated photography of Vanley Burke, Pogus Caeser and Keith Piper by at least twenty years. His explorations were extraordinary. No one else did it. Please do not underestimate the effort he made. In 1951, in a foreign culture, with racism accepted and the norm, Masterji began documenting something he could feel was vital. He kept to it for fifty years. Masterji knew that for a non-white person to take the photograph, to own the means of reproducing the image, was significant because his sitters responded differently to him. Gone was a colonial formality. People could be themselves – and Masterji made them feel themselves more than anyone.
So through his photographs, which will live on in exhibitions, books and photographic collections, we can celebrate the master as a true teacher, a philosopher and gentleman. We are indebted to his teaching that above all, it’s people that count. Rest in peace, Masterji.
Ben, Jason, & Mark