A New Photobook Captures The Workers At Mumbai's First Artisanal Chocolate Factory

The real faces of a brand should always be its workers.
The real faces of a brand should always be its workers.Rid Burman

Retrofitting a 2,000 sq. ft. two-storied textile mill in Colaba, the coffee roasters and bakehouse label Subko spawned Mumbai's first artisanal chocolate factory earlier this year. Visitors passing by the grinding rooms and crafting units on their way to the upstairs diner are subtly cognisant of how the pod-to-bar production runs like a smoothly-oiled machine, all the machines and processing infrastructure refined to an almost musical efficiency. But it could all look deceptively self-sustained and automatic, were it not for a countercultural photobook documenting the intrinsically human labour ecosystem that built the assembly line from ground up.

The high-contrast, hard light look is not common in commercial marketing.
The high-contrast, hard light look is not common in commercial marketing.Rid Burman

Irreverently titled Let's Chocolate, this series of gritty mugshots, captured on a film camera by the fashion photographer Rid Burman, flouts the systemic marketing strategy of roping in a brand ambassador. Instead, Subko Cacao is trying something more intimate and egalitarian by focusing on the faces of the workers themselves, who have been historically kept seperate from the finished creations. In doing so, they are attempting to reinstate their agency over the enterprise.

The portraits follow the brand ethos of transparency and fair treatment.
The portraits follow the brand ethos of transparency and fair treatment.Rid Burman

Emulating a high-contrast, hard-lit intensity that imbues the subjects with a 'paparazzi' look, such stylised portraiture reject airbrushed commodification in lieu of a searing candour. Though laid out and designed to adhere to the sleek visual identity of the brand itself, illustrator Aniruddh Mehta adds a curiously insubordinate touch by interspersing off-white with lurid reds and yellows for the spread, making the images pop with a roguish defiance against the background. Embossing graphics of industrial sketches and sci-fi computer screens as overlays or even in some cases, superimposing the title in form of an enigmatically deconstructed logo, the images retain a rough-around-the-edges archival quality that speaks to the hyper-traceability ethos of Subko.

Eager to join the ranks of specialty coffee and fine wine, single-origin chocolatiers are investing in building personal relationships with individual plantations and are zealously protective of their distinct flavour profiles that set them apart from the homogenised offerings on the market. Operating farm-level interventions across South India, Subko has proven to be fiercely loyal to its name by collaborating with local growers and manual workers on each aspect from fermentation to packaging, honouring their stories and experiences as an integral part of the brand's messaging. In a bid to evangelise their gospel of "back-to-basics", Subko Cacao is launching Let's Chocolate on Friday, 20th October at the aforementioned Cacao Mill in Mumbai. The preview and signing of the book will be followed by an interactive discussion with Rid Burman and Aniruddh Mehta and an exciting Make Your Own Bar (MYOB) crash course that is bound to be sinfully delectable.

You can learn more about the event here.