By Rhea Mathur
From having his work published in magazines like Time, Der Spiegel and Life, working in Rwanda on HIV/AIDS and addressing the Oxford Union about the war in Sierra Leone, Stuart Freedman has done it all. He has been a photographer since 1991 and has worked around the globe, showcasing his work in galleries in Germany, France and London. His last book, The Palaces of Memory: a nationwide collection of images and writing from thirty Indian Coffee Houses was published in England in 2016 and was a finalist for best photography book of the year in America.
Tales from Indian coffee houses
Now, Tasveer gallery has published an Indian edition of the book and are presenting an exhibition of forty photographs from it called ‘Tales from the Indian Coffee House’. The exhibition is being held from 8th _ 15th March at Bikaner House. Tasveer is a gallery established in 2006 and is the only member gallery from South Asia to be a part of The Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD). Their partner for this season is Dauble, a platform to discover and explore art for enthusiasts and collectors.
Stuart Freedman first visited India on an assignment in 1994. To escape from the hustle-bustle of Delhi’s chaotic streets, he found himself sitting in Connaught Place’s Indian Coffee House. The coffee house offered solace from all the commotion of the streets and became a place where he could sit and reflect. It also reminded him of the cafes he used to visit during his childhood in Hackney, London.
On several assignments through Jaipur, Kolkata and Delhi, to name a few, he discovered that coffee houses were great places to learn more about the locality. For years, he continued to visit different coffee houses all over India. He realized the importance of such a place to the locals, as it acted as a ground for them to discuss politics, economics, on-going events, for students to mingle and for families to visit together. Everyone came to the coffee house and for Freedman, it represented the “constantly changing theatre of the people of Delhi”.
The depth of his relation to coffee houses struck him even more as he started adding a few pictures of them to all of his assignments in India. In the end, he realized that there was more to them and that they were themselves exhibitions of endless art waiting to be captured. Hence, Freedman went around India to more than thirty coffee houses from 2010-2013, collecting photographs for his book. He was able to capture the art he could see in photographs with ease and this is evident through his marvellous photography in his book, Palace of Memory.
Same coffee houses in England
While talking about Coffee houses and their relevance in his own life, Freedman could not help but connect the ones in India to those back in his hometown. To him, they seemed “exactly the same” to the extent that an average family reminded him of his own. “A little boy sitting with his parents, a father, not too rich, having a special meal together,” said Freedman, as he reflected on the bonds that flourish inside a coffee house. Hence, for him, they were not just buildings or rooms but keepers of “important memories” of the “past”.
Understanding Freedman’s perception of coffee houses presents to us a new outlook towards life in India. It presents a way of connecting the past to the evolving new streets and in turn, understand them better. His exhibition thus, in Bikaner House is a chance to understand his vision, enabling us to draw parallels to it in our own lives. The exhibition is an opportunity that should not be missed.©Stuart Freedman, Men sit and talk in the
Indian Coffee House, Baba Kharak Singh
Marg, New Delhi, 2010,
Courtesy Tasveer ©Stuart Freedman, Sangaran, a waiter
who has worked at the coffee shop for 17
years. The Indian Coffee House,
Kollam (now closed), 2013, C-type print
Courtesy Tasveer ©Stuart Freedman, Indian Coffee House,
Chandigarh, India, 2013,
Courtesy Tasveer ©Stuart Freedman, A waiter serves
schoolgirls beneath a portrait of
Rabindranath Tagore in the Indian
Coffee House, Kolkata, 2013,
Courtesy Tasveer ©Stuart Freedman, The Indian
Coffee House, Kollam (now closed), 2013,
Courtesy Tasveer ©Stuart Freedman, Waiter Brij Nandan
Yadav. The Indian Coffee House,
New Delhi, 2011, C-type print
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