‘Electronics City’ is a project by German photographer Julia Knop, from 1997. Through photographs of the office spaces of one of Bangalore’s earliest IT parks, and those who inhabit it, Knop is presenting both a document of a key moment in India’s IT journey, and, one senses, a subtle critique on the vacuous nature of long hours spent in drab environments between the water cooler and computer. The photographs are perhaps reminiscent of Anna Fox’s ‘Workstations’ series, which examined office life during the Thatcher years in Britain (a similar time of upward mobility with all its aesthetic quirks). The facts and figures about Electronics City and India’s IT boom are well known through books, articles and essays. What is interesting about Knop’s work, however, is that by examining the spaces and aesthetics of offices in the late 90s, we are encouraged to think more about the personal/impersonal shifts and daily existence inside these spaces from a cultural and aesthetic viewpoint.
The roots of the IT industry in India can be traced to 1955, when a UK-made digital computer was set up at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Calcutta. A year later in Mumbai, an Indian made machine was put together at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). In the following decade, the establishment of IITs (notably IIT Kanpur) and their early training programs in computer programming set the foundations for what would follow. During this time in the south of the country, the state of Karnataka was being formed, with Bangalore as its capital. Whilst still very much a sleepy pensioners paradise, with its generously proportioned cantonment, tree lined boulevards and parks, the first signs of Bangalore’s potential for modernity were also being hinted at, (It was the first Indian city to have electric street lights, after all), and from the 50s its population expanded rapidly over the next two decades.
In the late 70s Electronics City was founded – the brainchild of R.K. Baliga, the first Chairman and MD of Keonics, Karnataka Electronics. In 1978, Keonics established the site on 332 acres of land in Konappana Agrahara and Doddathogur villages. About 120 now companies have their offices there. When Mohan Singh liberalised and globalised the economy in the 90s, foreign trade piled into Bangalore, paving the way for IT outsourcing in earnest, and this was the push Bangalore needed in forming its identity as an IT center.
Knop’s photographs from 1997 were taken at an interesting point in this history. They occupy a middle ground between the establishment of Bangalore as an IT Hub, and its wholesale, or what people might say its peak, in more recent times. This gives a poignant perspective from which to reflect – we see the root and we see the next step, i.e. the present. We see the cultural and economic fallout of places like Electronics City all around us, in the bourgeoning middle classes, in the apartment blocks, in fashion, in aspirations. Along with this upward mobility comes the homogenising effect on the visual landscape and vocabulary of the city. Cultural signifiers are pushed to the periphery, and Knop’s photographs could almost have been taken in any corporate office in world during the 90s, and therein lies the strength of the project – capturing the tipping point of the globalised landscape.
Find out more at www.juliaknop.com