(Written by Vandana Kalra)
29 April 2014 - Shovan Gandhi photographs the breaking down of mammoth water vessels at Alang, one of the largest ship recycling yards of the world.
It is the final destination — the graveyard where ships are broken into pieces and become sheer metal from the mammoth structures they once were. Located on the Gulf of Khambat, it might not be prominently marked on most maps of India, but for the shipping industry this is where reportedly almost half of the world’s ships dock for recycling. “Ships come to die at Alang and be reborn as something else,” says photographer Shovan Gandhi. Fascinated by the sight, he has revisited the location more than a couple of times over a period of seven years, always with a camera. “Permission was of course very difficult to get. It is a very private area,” adds the 31-year-old.
Select photographs of the region, taken by Gandhi, will be exhibited at Max Mueller Bhavan from May 9 onwards.
Comprising almost a dozen frames, the collection largely has grand ships against the backdrop of a gentle sea on an otherwise empty beach. “Initially what struck me was the scale of operations. The superstructures that stood there reminded me of works by Anish Kapoor, who has these large-scale installations in an urban context,” says Gandhi.
So if one image has ship wreckage submerged in water near the shore, another has twin ships tied with ropes on wet sand. Uniformed men are seen working on the metal structures in one image, while in another they walk away from the parked ships as if done for the day. “For many viewers from the subcontinent, this collection of photographs portrays salient strains of an almost Dickensian Industrialism, a prevailing socio-economic ecosystem in which unimportant men can aggregate and die so that dead ships live,” says Gandhi, who, apart from the photographs, has also been exploring the Alang market for furniture and light fittings. “Nothing is left, not even the copper wires. The metal usually goes to the construction lever industry and the market outside the ship-breaking yard sells a lot of memorabilia from the ship,” says Gandhi.
It was a conscious decision not to focus on the poor working conditions of migrant labourers and environmental concerns that are often raised regarding the region. “I wanted to instead look at the grandeur of the space,” says Gandhi. Now, he is working on a project in Tihar, documenting “governance and rehabilitation of the prisoners”. “I like to look at spaces with historically great value,” he adds.