While most people go about their day in a flurry, forgetting to ‘stop and smell the roses’, Rachel Lopez is one observant journalist with a heart inclined towards the arts! Everywhere she goes, she ‘looks up’ — especially when she takes a taxi!
A journalist based out of Mumbai, Rachel started a personal project called ‘The Greater Bombay’ where she takes photos of the quirky ceilings of taxis. This project has made thousands notice another side of Mumbai! Her collection of photos is ever-expanding with some crazy ceiling designs, from Gabbar Singh to strawberries! We caught up with her to chat about her project and more. Tap on the link in bio and below!
Hello! Rachel, we are happy to have you! Please tell our readers a bit about yourself.
My name is Rachel Lopez, I’m 37-years-old and I’m a journalist with the Hindustan Times. I have been in Mumbai for all of my life and today I use this familiarity for my work.
At Hindustan Times, I cover features, edit, do a weekly column about the city (It’s called Mumbaiwale), and a fortnightly column (called Recharge, about unusual recommendations). I also have a podcast, Wordy Wordpecker, which looks at the extraordinary history of ordinary words like Pomegranate, Bikini, and Tinder – it was on Apple’s list of Best Podcasts in 2018. In addition, my essays about Mumbai were exhibited on the walls of the Max Mueller Bhavan Gallery this summer.
And of course, there are the taxi ceiling photos on ‘The Greater Bombay’ which I’m here to chat with you all about! They were exhibited at the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai this February. I was immensely grateful and happy to be able to see them up and among the public, receiving so much love.
How did you come up with the idea to do this project?
Mumbai has about 55,000 taxis and it registers with most of us that there’s often some kind of decorative covering on the ceiling and doors to protect the cab from dust and grime. But none of us really pays attention.
Two years ago, on a sweltering summer day, I got into a taxi and happened to look up. My ceiling was covered in strawberries of unnatural hues against a brown background. It was spectacularly ridiculous. I loved it instantly and decided to take a picture. It occurred to me, in that taxi, that I should try and take as many pictures as I can and see how many patterns there are.
It started as a joke. But the joke’s on me – I now have 475+ unique taxi ceiling designs and I still keep finding new ones. I post them on my Instagram primarily.
Is your love for Mumbai the sole reason for your adventures?
I love this question! Yes and no. I love Mumbai if it hasn’t become obvious already. I love art, design and patterns. But I’m also a journalist – my job requires me to be out in the city which in turn has me hailing a lot of taxis, aligning me with my project spaces. The best time to click a photo is during a traffic jam – and we have PLENTY of those. The combination of these two things inspired me. That being said, there are plenty of others in similar or better situations in the city, who don’t bother noticing, photographing or dedicatedly cataloging anything. In that, I think my appreciation for the world I live in truly helps.
What is your curation process? Do you pick and choose your favorites to display?
I’d reckon that roughly two out of three cabs carry some kind of plastic-covered interiors. I love all the designs, even the ugly ones. So I simply make sure that the design is not ripped, and that I haven’t encountered it before. A lot of people ask me if I check the interiors before choosing to take a ride in a cab, I do not. This is a fun exercise for me, but I would never mess with the livelihood of a taxi driver by refusing his taxi. They are one of the nicest, most helpful and interesting working classes in the city.
Were you inspired by any other accounts when you began your journey?
Nope. This is 100% original work. I am documenting my city as I move. But I did discover Bill Young’s American project @MyHotelCarpet after I began posting. We’re friends now – kindred spirits I guess. Even though he looks down while I look up.
What do you hope people take away from your varied collection?
That there are surprises to be found in your world, if you just change your perspective – in my case, to look up more. That design is everywhere, not just in a fancy boutique or on the façade of a heritage building. That taxies are a dying trend – Ubers are taking over, and they are grey and dull. That the world is crazy and beautiful. And that it’s fun to have a fruit plate or Gabbar Singh or a floral trellis or zebra prints looking down on you on your ride.
Which is your most memorable ceiling pattern?
I think the first one with the strawberries, all the fruity ones because they’re so whimsical, and all the pictures that my followers now share – the fact that they’re noticing something that’s been around forever is a total thrill.
A good number of the prints seem like direct inspiration from William Morris vintage wallpaper patterns. There are abstract works that recall the paintings of Fahrelnissa Zeid. And strangely plenty of fruit-flower combinations that you think should be on a plastic tablecloth or shower curtains. These coverings are made in China and I’d love to see who’s making these eclectic design decisions.
See more of this eccentric side of Mumbai on her Instagram!
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