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HomeContents > People > Photographers > A.J. Patel

Born: Ambalal Jhaverbhai Patel 
Dates:  1907 (ca) - 1961, 14 June
Born:  India, Ode
Died:  India, Bombay

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Approved biography for A.J. Patel
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Ambalal Jhaverbhai Patel was born in the small village of Ode, India, the son a primary schoolmaster. After a boyhood interest in photography, he secured jobs as an usher in a movie house and in a photographic studio in East Africa.
He ventured to Bombay by 1932, when he opened the Central Camera Company, a small shop to sell equipment, and then brought his family there. Patelís interest soon shifted to the movie industry, performing research for MGM and Twentieth Century Fox for films they shot in India. During the 1930s, he and his brother began making educational shorts and newsreels. In 1945, Professional Photographer called Patel a "movie tycoon" and indicated that he was also the Indian representative of Bardwell and McAlister, a Hollywood maker of lights for professional photographers. The magazine also pointed out that India was now second only to the United States in film production, making over two hundred feature-length movies a year.
In 1946, Patel established the Film Center in Bombay, a processing lab for black-and-white movie footage. About five years later, it began also developing color film and eventually became the largest processor in the country. He visited the United States at least twice, including in 1948, when he toured the country by plane with his wife and two children. During their stop in Chicago, they visited the editorial offices ofPopular Photography, which printed a small picture of them in its April 1948 issue.
On the night of August 15, 1947, Patel filmed Jawaharlal Nehru giving a speech on the occasion of Indiaís independence from Britain. His high position in the countryís film industry allowed him to have parties with visiting luminaries such as Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, and Otto Preminger.
Patel pursued pictorial photography as an avid pastime during the 1930s and 1940s. Salons accepted his work in Bombay, London, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, New York, Rochester, and Wichita. His most prolific season exhibiting was 1938-39, when 128 of his prints were seen in forty-nine salons. In 1939, he was judged the top amateur photographer of the British Empire and the worldís tenth highest award winner. The American Annual of Photography reproduced his work in 1940, 1941, 1946, and 1947. And, Englandís Photograms of the Year did the same in 1939, 1946, and 1947. Sometime before 1940, Patel made the acquaintance of the Chicago pictorialist Max Thorek, as the institute owns a portrait by Thorek of Patel holding a camera and wearing a Western suit and turban.
Patelís pictorial subjects included the animals, people, and landscape of India. His photograph Modesty shows off his skills at capturing the mood of an attractive young Indian woman. The subject looks down and is rendered in a very shallow depth of focus, her large earrings rendered particularly soft. This picture won a medal in a Camera Craft competition and was reproduced in its October 1938 issue. The magazineís editor commented on Patelís motives by saying, "there seems to be ample justification for the treatment which he has adopted. The theme of his picture implies soft lighting and delicate modeling. He has achieved that with remarkable skill." The Minneapolis Institute of Arts print of Modesty was shown at the Milwaukee Photo Pictorialists and in the 1938 London Salon of Photography.
In 1960, A. J. Patel began construction of the Patel Industrial Center, to manufacture photographic equipment. The next year, on June 14, 1961, he died of a heart attack at his Bombay home. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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