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Christopher Taylor | Biography

The haunting atmosphere of familiarity I felt when visiting Calcutta for the first time twenty years ago left a deep impression. Modelled on London, - where I lived at the time - enough remained of the Empire’s second city to be living testimony to the colonial era. I was reminded of a bygone London in a city held captive by its 19th century heyday. That the past seemed to dominate the present is perhaps due in part to the sharp contrast in fortunes that followed years of political upheaval. A post independence attempt to erase the visible legacy of colonial rule by demolishing selected buildings proved short lived, and has more recently been countered by a movement to restore some elements of the city’s heritage. Calcutta’s cosmopolitan origins have resulted in an intriguing paradox at a time of transformation.

The British planned Calcutta and Bombay to symbolise imperial power. Knowing little about the consequences of this chapter in my own country’s history, I thought an opportunity presented itself for further investigation before the inevitable process of modernisation advanced too far. Returning to India on a yearly basis since 2003, I had decided to photograph the interiors of the mostly administrative buildings that still dominate central Kolkata and Mumbai. I wanted to glimpse behind the imposing façades and study at first hand the workings of the machine. An exhibition in Kolkata two years ago of some of these images led to a close collaboration with Soumitra Das, Arts Editor with the Telegraph, to work on “Red Square” - a book project of text and images about the fulcrum of colonial power in India, the area at the heart of old Calcutta where British trade was first established back in 1686. As a consequence, the scope of my project greatly increased, and a picture started to emerge of a complex and fascinating story.