Sam Tata (1911-2005) was of Indian descent but born in Shanghai in September 1911. He dabbled in photography after completing his studies at the University of Hong Kong in the 1930s. Learning from masters such as Oscar Seepol, Lang Jingshan and Liu Shuchong, Tata purchased a small format camera and captured street scenes and everyday life, while remaining open to photographic modernism and pictorialist aesthetic.
In the 1940s, Tata moved to India and met famed French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who became both an inspiration and a friend. From 1946 to 1948, the duo worked together to document the tumultuous final years of the Indian Independence movement and the assassination of Mahatma Gandi.
In 1949, Tata returned to Shanghai where he witnessed and recorded events surrounding the Chinese Civil War, which opposed the Communists led by Mao Zedong and the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-Shek. In that sense, Tata’s photographs offer one of the rare visual records of the arrival of the Communists in Shanghai.
Tata immigrated to Canada in 1956 and established himself in Montreal. He became known for his portraits of celebrities such as Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Buster Keaton, Elizabeth Smart, Christopher Plummer, Donald Sutherland to name a few.
• Sam Tata on Virtual Shanghai website
• Tata, Sam. Shanghai: 1949 : the End of an Era. New York: New Amsterdam, 1989.