It all started with a ten-day assignment for an international airline. I had to cover Amsterdam and its environs, but was asked specifically to take unusual photos of bicycles. I was surprised and amused – not unlike a photographer from a non-Asian country, visiting India for the first time, and being asked to cover auto-rickshaws. But then, the very first morning in Amsterdam, as I set my mental compass and stepped out of the hotel, I realized how the bicycle has become part of the Dutch body and psyche. I almost fantasized that the Dutch were conceived, born and brought up on the bicycle! I still believe a Dutch child would take to the bicycle just like a baby fish to water!
All around I saw the many-hued bicycle in different sizes- old and new, tied to anything rising straight from the ground - a lamp-post, a tree or the ramp of a staircase supported on tiny pillars – with every imaginable chain and lock. Most of them were let loose on the streets like stray cattle in a typical Indian town, particularly during drought, when the rains have failed. Slowly, this simple contraption for commuting, a sort of extension of human legs, was transformed for me into a mystical object of art. But the transcendental experience was yet to follow……..
The twelve years between 1984 and 1996 were my most productive ones, when I was working simultaneously on six series of photographs. Three of these series, including the present one on the bicycle, has been published. I traveled mostly in India, with small stints abroad. Daily, I was shaken up by tiny creative explosions……
In celebrating the bicycle, I celebrate the contraption invented by humans to move forward faster, without using any energy except that generated by their legs. I also celebrate the future, the heralding of a new era, in which mankind would have learnt to utilize the many sources of renewable energy – the new age, free of fossil fuels and the resultant pollution. But all the more, I celebrate our joyful inter-dependence, the never ending ras, the cosmic circular dance, where every gopi has a Krishna to dance with, and still He stands in the centre playing the divine flute.
Note: All the photographs in this book are primal camera images, and have not been manipulated in any way through the use of dark-room or computer techniques, or by double-exposure during photography.
This book was published by Archer in 2006 and contains 104 pages with 78 coloured photographs with captions.
Ashwin Mehta (1931-2014) is one of India's most distinguished photographers. In a career that spans several decades, he has excelled in various genres, including nature photography, destination photography, and the cityscapes. His work has been collected in a series of books, including Himalaya : encounters with Eternity (Thames & Hudson, London, 1985), Coasts of India (Thames & Hudson, London, 1987), Gifts of Solitude (Mapin, Ahmedabad, 1991), Hundred Himalayan flowers (Mapin, Ahmedabad, 1992), and Happenings - Journal of Luminous Moments (Hindustan Inks, Gujarat, 2003). His work has also been shown in the group exhibitions Creative Eye curated by Raghu Rai (New Delhi, 1972); Indian Photograph 1844-1984, curated by Mitter Bedi (Darmsadt, 1984); and Another Way of Seeing, curated by Circle of 24 (The Netherlands, 1992). Mehta has also been engaged in a number of prestigious collective projects, including A Day in the Life of India (Collins, London, 1995), and the Festivals of India in Britain (1982), Russia (1990) and Germany (1991). He has been commissioned as a destination photographer by Singapore Airlines, the Oberoi Hotels, and the India Tourism Development Corporation. He has also photographed the Indian medicinal plants for a monograph by chemical Export Promotion Council (Chemexil), and the spices of India for the Taj Hotels. Mehta, who first exhibited his photographs in 1966, has since held exhibitions at Jehangir Art Gallery, the Centre for Photography as an Art Form, and Gallery Chemould, Bombay; the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, and the Gardner Centre for the Arts, Brighton, Britain.