Clocking passion

Around 1996, during the early years of Chirodeep Chaudhuri’s photography career, he was trying to click a picture of a street in Calcutta, as the city was named back then. However, he wasn’t able to include a public clock in the picture, and that’s the first time he became aware of one.

Twenty three years later, on January 7, ‘Seeing Time’ — a series of photographs of 81 buildings with public clocks in Mumbai — was displayed at the Women in Design 2020 (WID) Exhibition curated by HECAR Foundation.

Chirodeep Chaudhuri explains to us how this exhibition brings an order to the ‘mammoth of madness’ that the project was... “As I was moving around the city, I was on the lookout for public clocks, like we have at Victoria Terminus (now called CST).

Keshavji Nayak Pyau & Clock Tower @ Masjid (W)
Bhagat Bhuvan @ Vile Parle (W)
Crawford Market
Hallai Mahajan Bhatiawadi chawl clock @ Kalbadevi
Sridhar Bhalchandra & Co. @ Prarthana Samaj
Tejookaya Park @ Matunga

Over 23 years of looking I found 81 such buildings. This is the work that is displayed at the exhibition. The organising principle of the gallery is ‘building typology’.”

Explaining further, Chirodeep says that the photos of the different buildings are grouped into categories like Educational Buildings, Offices, Places of Worship, Dockyards etc.

“Side by side there’s a map of Mumbai where each of these buildings are plotted like GPS location, so you see a geographic organisation. This shows you a cluster of such buildings around certain regions, like South Mumbai. As you move into the native township, you find another there as well,” he adds.

While each of these 81 clocks has an interesting story to tell, Chirodeep shares an anecdote of a rather peculiar clock that was present on a clothing store in Goregaon...“The unusual thing about this clock is that there are no numbers in the dial.

Instead you see the alphabets in Marathi, that spell out the owner’s name. It was established in 1917, I photographed it in 2016 and finally met the guys in 2017.

That particular day he was shutting shop as there was no business coming in. He told me how people in the neighbourhood would use the clock and would ask him to repair it when it wasn’t working.”

This project for Chirodeep has grown parallelly with his photography career and even though one can never be sure about how many such public clocks exist, he has made peace with his work.

He started his career photographing the streets of Mumbai, as this was the city he grew up in. He believes that this allowed him to develop a certain nuance in his pictures and storytelling.

“I know this city better than any other city and am better equipped to understand the information it throws at me. What this allows is for nuance,” maintains Chirodeep.

The one thing that stands out in all of Chirodeep’s pictures is the story behind it and, for him, that is the crux of any photograph. Whether it be a single image or a narrative, Chirodeep says the only reason it will connect with people and becoming memorable, is if it has a great story to tell.

For Chirodeep, his photography allows him to satisfy his curiosity about the city and the world, but more often than not, he’s left with many moments captured beautifully in his pictures rather than his memory.

“I remember being on assignment photographing a theatre performance at the Nehru Centre. I was looking through the camera, clicking pictures and side by side trying to watch the play.

At the interval, a friend of mine said that it was such a great performance. That was the moment I realised, I wasn’t even watching, I was busy shooting.

My memory of that performance is just in my photographs, it’s not the real experience,” he concludes.

When: On till January 20

Where: Max Mueller Bhavan, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai