Ahmed Ali (b.1923) started photographing as a boy of eleven when he was gifted a box camera. Within a year he was developing and printing his photographs in the dormitory of his boarding school. After college, he decided to make a career in photography and by the age of seventeen he was working at Bourne & Shepherds, Calcutta, assisting one of their photographers. In 1948, he set up a studio called Universal Camera Arts in a central location in Calcutta. After World War II, the demand for photography in sales, promotion and advertising went up and Ahmed Ali found his services increasingly called for, and he began to photograph a wide variety of subjects. His first professional assignment was to photograph the Tata Steel Plant in 1947. Thereafter, he became the photographer of choice for all the Tata enterprises, be it the tea gardens, tractors, or the steel plant itself. He travelled to all parts of India, photographing other tea gardens, coal mines, uranium mines, steel plants, hotels, locomotive plants, truck and car factories, radio manufacturing factories, lamp factories, as also models for advertisements and even doing aerial photography. He had his first solo exhibition in 1987 at the Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta. Perhaps, no other photographer in India has photographed such a vast variety of subjects over many decades. Starting out when both industry and advertising were in their nascent stages in the post-Independence period, Ahmed Ali through his extensive oeuvre became one of the pioneers of advertising and industrial photography in India. His sprawling body of work is a priceless historical document of the processes of nation building and its consolidation through the 1950s to the 1980s. He remained active till his nineties and passed away in 2016. 

India Art Fair 2023

At Work, 1949-1980

Set of 49 silver gelatin prints

Each photograph is 10 × 10 in (25.4 × 25.4 cm)
Ed of 7

Mark I Ambassador, Hindustan Motors Factory, Uttarpara, West Bengal, 1962

Pigment print

36 × 36 in (91.4 × 91.4 cm)
Ed of 7