Still in time

Indian Art Studio is one of the oldest surviving photo studios in the city

Written by Stuti Shukla | Published: January 5, 2014 12:31 am

As you step inside the Indian Art Studio from the narrow bylanes of Kalbadevi,it feels like you have travelled several years back in time. The wooden-panel interiors,chandeliers filling the room with soft yellow light and walls adorned with old photographs of joint families,Maharajas,freedom fighters and old Bombay lend the place a quaint charm. Located at the junction of Princess Street and Kalbadevi Road in south Mumbai,the 95-year-old studio is one of the oldest surviving photo studios in the city.

It was only recently that a man came to the studio with his two-year-old son and an unusual request,says owner Rajesh Chaddha. The man had brought with him a photograph of his taken at the studio when he was two years old. Thirty years on,he wanted the photographer to click a picture of his son — seated on the same ‘stool’ for children and against the same background. He did not leave the studio disappointed,Chaddha adds.

The stool was once an indispensable piece of furniture in family portraits framed at the studio. Other prized possessions include century-old glass plate cameras,large-sized wooden cameras,daylight photograph enlargers,mounting machines and fully functional dark-room facilities. Most of the equipment dates to the time the studio was set up. The oldest photograph,which dates back to 1920,is that of the Jewish Division in Bombay of the colonial St. John’s Ambulance Brigade.

Brothers Rajesh,Anil and Sanjay feel that they are the custodians of the heritage passed on to them by their forefathers. The studio sprawls 3,000 sq ft. Their family has been in the business for the past four generations. In February 2009,the junction where the studio stands was renamed as Chhayachitrakar Chaddha Chowk by municipal authorities.

The insides of a wooden-framed glass cabinet — against which Anil sits — are lined up with double lens cameras,roll cameras,an 80-year-old spy camera and the first ever panoramic camera that used to take ‘cut pictures’,which would be physically joined later. “Today,you can create a panoramic view with a click on your i-Phone,” says Anil.

However,you can spot graphic design artists working on Macintosh computers on antique wooden tables. “All our work is now digital. But if someone comes to us with a negative roll,we are probably one of the last studios left to develop pictures from rolls,” says Rajesh.

The studio also restores old photographs. Photographers from the studio have taken the official photographs of the Bombay High Court and Raj Bhavan. Among the many original pictures of important personalities taken by the studio’s photographers are pictures of Mahatma Gandhi,Jawaharlal Nehru at the Mumbai University Convocation Hall,Maharaja of Ratlam,Maharaja of Morbi and a self-signed portrait of Subhash Chandra Bose.

The studio also has artists who are skilled in making oil-painting portraits on canvas and water colour on black and white pictures. “People photography is our forte,” says Rajesh.

The 12 wooden cameras in the studio could each fetch them Rs 70 lakh,Anil says. “There are foreigners who come to us and quote incredibly high prices,not just for camera equipment but also for old clocks and furniture. But our stand is clear — not even a ball-pen will leave this shop,” says Anil.

As he carefully handles the ‘glass negatives’ of a wedding in the 1940s,he says,“Today we click several pictures at one go. When photography was not cheap and the ‘trial and error’ option not available,the maximum clicks at a wedding ceremony would be 15. There was no scope for error.”

stuti.shukla@expressindia.com

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