This photography project pays tribute to the lives of books in a Mumbai library

Photographers have a different way of looking at the mundane, and with the magic of their lens and their craft, they transform what can seem ordinary into photographs that fill you with wonder, happiness, grief, angst and yearning.

One such project is ‘In the City, a Library’ by Chirodeep Chaudhuri, photographer and author of the critically acclaimed book ‘A Village In Bengal: Photographs and an Essay’ and Jerry Pinto, author of ‘Em and the Big Hoom’.

The project showcases a collection of photographs of tattered books with creased, yellowed and faded pages that reminds you of an era gone by, when the search for knowledge used to end in dusty bookshelves of libraries, instead of a mere tap on the smartphone screen.

Choudhuri took 18 months to take these pictures of books in The People’s Free Reading Room and Library, a public library in Dhobi Talao in Old Mumbai, of which Pinto became the trustee in 2015. It is a very old institution and houses books and magazines from the times of the British Raj.  Fascinated by the story of the library and the books and the stories within, Choudhuri and Pinto collaborated to bring this story to the world.

Displayed at Project 88 in Mumbai, the collection showcases images depicting how readers interact with the books they borrow from libraries, turning their pages, sometimes underlining phrases and words, othertimes using flowers or leaves as bookmarks, and then returning them to the library, so that they can be read by others. It’s evocative, textural and nostalgic – like opening a time capsule.

Image Credit: ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’, Photo by Chirodeep Chaudhur. Source: Project 88
Image Credit: The Works of George Eliot: The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems, Old and New, Photo by Chirodeep Chaudhuri , Source: Project 88

Conversely, there are also pictures of shelves and shelves of books that have not been touched by anyone in probably decades.

It is both a testament to the magic gleaned from old books and libraries, and second, a silent commentary on how both have slowly become redundant and irrelevant amidst the rush of modern life. Here’s hoping that in its own small way, this collection is a small reminder of the irreplaceable in-person experience of a library, even amidst a digital age.

For more information, head on over to the project’s Facebook Page.

Written by Anisha Kashwani

Featured image: The Universal Geography with Illustrations and Maps (Vol. XIII – South & East Africa). By Elisee Reclus. Photograph by Chirodeep Chaudhuri. Source: Project 88


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