Christopher Taylor’s sumptuous black-and-white photographs of historically important Indian edifices are stirringly anachronistic. “Institutions,” Taylor’s newest exhibition at photography gallery Tasveer in New Delhi, convenes images of deserted interiors, taken in Calcutta and Mumbai, which double as time capsules preserving a decadent history in decay.
After a trip to India in the 1980s, Taylor turned his lens on the country’s fraught colonial past, still ubiquitously present in the architectural idiosyncrasies of India’s largest cities. With an approach that calls to mind Candida Höfer’s monumental images of institutional interiors and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s cinematic series of empty, incandescent theaters, Taylor’s photos are devoid of people but marked with their influence. In the most opulent of Taylor’s subjects, sitting rooms from Imperial mansions are like curio cabinets. Tagore Mansion, Drawing Room, Calcutta (2005) is filled with artifacts from a bygone time, when every crystal decanter, silver pitcher, and ivory snuff box was filled with ambrosial, luxury items.
Images like Mackinnon Mackenzie Building, Calcutta (2005) and Freemason’s Hall, Bombay (2004) are more sobering. In the first scene, ornate moldings are reconstituted as mini mountains made of architectural crumbles from a building that once bustled with workday activity. In the second, peeling walls of an enigmatic Freemason’s haunt serve as backdrop for dusty benches and toppled lecterns. At both ends of Taylor’s spectrum, there is a sense of historical turmoil still unresolved, elucidated by objects that have stuck around and refuse to disappear.