Map of a lost city , Indian Express

November 9, 2008

Photographer Shamim Akhtar is building a portrait of Delhi, photo by photo

Ever since he came to Delhi as a student in 1992, Shamim Akhtar has returned to Humayun's Tomb time and again, shooting and re-shooting the sepulchral beauty of the tomb that inspired the Taj Mahal. He delighted in capturing its great arches and cupolas in their striking red-and-white raiment before moving on to the "poetry" of black-and-white photography, and eventually to the rare and challenging abstractions of the infrared medium.

"Every time I look at one of the many monuments that define Delhi as a historical city, I feel there is something more to it than I have captured," 38-year-old Akhtar says. Repeatedly revising his lensman's impression of the Mughal forts, serais and tombs, he burned most of his early work. Akhtar's recent photographs of Qutab Minar—which, along with Humayun's Tomb, is among the best-maintained monuments in the city, he says—are imbued with a lurid perfection, accentuating the aesthetics of symmetry, the people passing by mere ghosts of overlong exposure.

It is the lack of a sense of attachment among the people of Delhi towards these relics of the past that prompted him to work on a book on "the forgotten Dilli". He has shot 50-60 frames and intends to add a few more to them. An exhibition, perhaps in France or Dubai, is also in the offing. "People there appreciate the technique of infrared photography and don't hesitate to buy it. In India, collectors shell out a lot of money for paintings, but not for photographs," he says.

For Akhtar, the camera has been a lasting passion. By the time he was 23, he already had 250 photo-bylines in magazines and newspapers. Every now and then, Akhtar, a self-taught photographer, takes up the odd commercial assignment—mostly fashion or advertising. Last year, Floating Pearls in the Arabian Sea, his coffee table book on the tropical paradise that is Lakshadweep, was brought out by NISHCAM, the publishing house run by his wife Sasmita, who also contributed the text for the book.