Manish Golder, Sayan Dutta, and Siddharth Hajra have embarked upon a mission to photo document all the heritage buildings in Kolkata before they disappear from the city’s skyline.
“Siddharth and I grew up in Kolkata. Sayan is from Delhi, but being a Bengali, he shares a close connection with the city. Together, we all feel a common sense of belonging,” says Manish.
Their Instagram account, ‘Calcutta Houses,’ is a diverse collection of aesthetically shot photographs of heritage buildings in Kolkata. Aiming to archive the rich history and culture behind these timeless buildings, the trio, via their Instagram account, also wants to ensure that these structures remain immortal.
Kolkata is one of the few cities in India where heritage buildings are still occupied. An integral part of the city’s cultural fabric, some of them have fallen into disrepair.
Intimately acquainted with the city, the friends have always loved to go on long walks and observe its many sights. They noticed that post the construction boom in 2005, old houses in Kolkata began to disappear, and fast. Manish recalls situations where they would be drinking tea, next to a heritage building one day, and the next day, it was gone—torn down by the unyielding authorities.
The trio uses phone cameras to capture these priceless moments. Manish, a seasoned DLSR user, claims that today’s phones have better features than his first DLSR.
“Phones are relatively more inconspicuous. If you go with 2 or 3 large-format cameras, people get perturbed and misinterpret our intentions. Carrying a phone attracts less attention,” says Manish.
Phones are also preferred because one can use the inbuilt GPS feature to provide the accurate location of the building, with the photo.
The trio didn’t have a particular agenda in mind, apart from one to take good photos of significant buildings, and they decided to start an Instagram page to showcase their work to a broader audience.
Quality is important. Manish reveals that out of hundreds of photos which are shot, only one is selected. The page isn’t promoted, and all their followers and traffic is organic.
“We consciously curated the page, mindfully adding content, taking our time. We have no intention of monetising this, or no agenda to make money off it. Everything is organic. We wanted to see how people would respond, and whether this would foster an interactive community of like-minded people,” he says.
The trio has had many interesting experiences, and Manish recalls one in which a man, emerged from one of the house to tell the trio it was futile just to take photos and something beyond that needed to be done. In yet another incident, the team was shooting in central Kolkata, when someone alerted the owner of the home. Livid, she threatened to call the media and the police.
“A lot of people, especially the youth, find these houses fascinating and want to live in them,” says Manish.
However, intricate ownership patterns, pending litigation and other complications make renting these houses out nearly impossible.
The trio’s primary objective is to “create awareness, by taking photographs and archiving them,” explains Manish explains. He states the benefits of a record of these heritage properties existing, as opposed to nothing at all and says that the benefits of archiving may not be apparent now, but will be evident later.
Calcutta Houses doesn’t have a set plan.
Manish says, “This is not a movement. It is just a convergence of like-minded people. A lot of people wish to get involved, by way of contributions or otherwise. The community should grow, have more followers, and then maybe, some noise can be created.”
“We have been documenting Kolkata for a long time, in different ways,” says Manish, adding that “the city is a treasure trove of photogenic moments.”
Here are 10 photographs from the “Calcutta Houses” project, that will inspire to walk around and explore, the next time you visit the City of Joy.
All Pictures Courtesy: Calcutta Houses.