One of India’s first street photographers, Pranlal Patel chronicled both pre- and post-independence India, documenting everything from the everyday life of ordinary citizens to important national events and key historical figures. Of the nearly fifty thousand black and white images he produced over eight decades, several were published widely in magazines such as the Illustrated Weekly of India, Dharmayug and the Amrita Patrika Bazaar.
Born in Jamnagar, Patel moved to Ahmedabad as a young boy. In his twenties, he took up his first job as a schoolteacher, but an abiding interest in photography led him to pursue it professionally. Though he never formally trained, he drew upon the works of artist Ravishankar Raval and hobbyist photographer Balwant Bhatt for inspiration. At a time when most photographers were shooting inside studios, his oeuvre is distinctive for mostly being shot on location and in natural light. A notable series, shot in 1937 and commissioned by the non-profit organisation Jyoti Sangh, is unique for having captured Indian women in their work environments at a time when this was still a novelty.
In 1940, Patel opened his own studio under the name Patel Studios. Over the years, he exhibited his work nationally and internationally, including at the Amateur Photography London International Contest Overseas, UK (1942), the Kodak New York World Fair Colour Photograph, USA (1964), and the Inter Press Photo Exhibition, Moscow, Russia (1966) among others. He was recognised as an Associate of the Royal Photography Society of Great Britain in 1946.
Patel passed away in Ahmedabad in 2014. Later that year, thirty of his photographs were exhibited at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, New York, under the title Refocusing the Lens: Pranlal K. Patel’s Photographs of Women at Work in Ahmedabad.
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