Mitzi Ilagan | Fotograpiya
Are photo studios still relevant today? Addressing this question may be intriguing, but history would surely speak for itself.
176 years after its opening, the world’s oldest functioning photo studio shut down due to some reasons. One thing’s for sure: change is inevitable. Jayant Gandhi, the proprietor, now in his 70s mentioned, “Things are not the same anymore. Technology has changed and I have grown old. How will I run it.”
Established in Kolkata’s esplanade area in 1840 by William Howard, Samuel Borne and Charles Shepherd, the 4-storey structure of where the studio was housed became a landmark. It is now deserted, but was once a hub of visitors and known people in the industry. It was started by Shepherd with the help of Arthur Robertson and Samuel Bourne in the City of the Taj-Agra, which was then moved to Shimla, then to Kolkata. It was known as B&S studio.
The B&S studio was known for their portraits. They have done shoots for well-known Hindu religious leader Sree Ramakrishna Paramhansa and even British officers and their wives and India’s first politicians came to this photo studio to have their photos taken. Some of their works in tin and glass plates, albumen prints, bromide paper prints, and black and white negatives were collected and can be seen in the Smithsonian group of museums in Washington, National Portrait Gallery in London, Cambridge University Library and National Geographic Society. They were even hired as photographers of the Delhi Durbar held to commemorate the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India, from where they were given the title “Kaiser-e-Hind”. During their greatest days as a commercial firm, the studio had 2 offices in Shimla and in Mumbai, 2 offices in Paris and London and a number of affliliates all over the country.
Shepherd once captured a very important photo: the only existing photo of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II. Bourne, on the other hand, have taken his photography to a higher level as he conquered the Himalayas. With his crew of 30 people, they went on an expedition to Manirang Pass and have brought 250 12×10 inch and 400 8×4.5 inch glass plates for his photos.
Through the years, though handled by a number of different proprietors, the studio managed to document India’s happenings and events from the colonial times to the post-independence era.
However, as the world continues to change, it has been difficult for the photo studio to catch up with the modern technology that is being widely spread. Moreover, a fire which broke into the studio financially added more problems to the business. They have lost a lot of glass negatives from the archives stored in the building, almost 90% of their studio, which is a major setback. The battle that Gandhi has been fighting for almost two decades already have survived political and social turmoil, but withstanding the rise of digital photography was a more complex thing to do.
The most important part is, the studio has played a very important role in the field of photography. Significant people and their shots were taken, and that is a memory that one could not do again. Clicking on digital cameras and having it posted on social media sites is really an easy thing to do, but manual photography, with all the negatives and large equipment, could bring a nostalgic feeling to photographers, even when they haven’t experienced it.