In the 1920s, Mumbai was silently evolving from a collection of islands to a cosmopolitan city. While on the one hand, it was a trade and industrial hub for the British, on the other hand, it was emerging as the epicentre of the national freedom struggle.
This interaction between the east and west that later defined the city’s identity was captured by British photographer EO Hoppe in 1929 and will be on display at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, Kala Ghoda from Thursday.
Titled, Hoppe’s Bombay 1929 and Santiniketan, the exhibition will also commemorate the 150th birth centenary of poet Rabindranath Tagore, who invited Hoppe to visit India in 1929. The exhibition includes photographs of Mumbai and Santiniketan, the university started by Tagore in West Bengal.
The EO Hoppe Estate Collection in California published these pictures only in the 1990s, much after his death in 1970. This is the first time that his work is being exhibited in India. Prints of the pictures were shipped from California to Mumbai, the first city to host the exhibition, which will also travel to Kolkata.
Famous for having clicked portraits of personalities such as George Bernard Shaw, T.S Elliot and members of the British royal family, banker-turned-photographer Hoppe visited several parts of India and captured the growing unrest against the British rule.
“These photographs beautifully document Santiniketan and Bombay during the times of Rabindranath Tagore and speak a lot about Hoppé and reveal his anti-colonial view and empathy for Indian people and their movement towards independence,” said Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director of the museum.
Tagore invited Hoppe to India in 1929 after their initial interaction through a common friend in London in 1911.
Right from the Gateway of India, which at the time was less than two decades old, to a picturesque view of the Parel mill chimneys from Malabar Hill, Hoppe’s hand-held camera captured it all.
His subjects included eminent artists, writers and political heads and Tagore, who he clicked both in London and in Santiniketan. Hoppe’s depiction of Santiniketan portrays the symbiotic relationship between learning and nature. Classes were conducted under trees and agriculture was encouraged in the same way as modern ideals for men and women alike.