Hamilton Studios: A sneak peek into one of the oldest photo studios in the country

“The studio has an account on Instagram now. I update it every few weeks. We have to go with the flow,” she says.

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai | Published:May 19, 2017 3:54 am
The studio was openned in 1928. Photo courtesy: Ajita Madhavji

AJITA MADHAVJI has never clicked a selfie. The 58-year-old owner of Hamilton Studios, one of the oldest photo studios in the country, says she routinely turns down requests to reproduce prints from selfies, as most are not composed properly. “There is a lot of distortion that hits your eyes,” Madhavji says.

Given a choice, she would rather shoot potraits on film ‘that look like oil paintings’. “But much has changed. Cameras have become digital. Photography itself has undergone a different kind of change and digital has spoilt the market. Everyone has a smart phone that has a camera. They can give you good results. When someone can click a picture with their phones, why do they need to come to a photo studio?” she asks, speaking about her diminishing clientele.

She answers the question herself: “Because they cannot see what I can see. When taking a portrait, to get that correct mood for a good photograph is very difficult. Composition is necessary. One has to realise that these are a few things and so some people do come here,” she says.

It was in 1928 that Hamilton Studios was opened by Sir Victor Sassoon.

Madhavji’s father, Ranjit, a cloth merchant, took over it in the 1950s.

Madhavji recalls how at the Hamilton the ‘official photographers of the Bombay state’, had a clientele, which included Lords and Ladies during the British rule, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, J R D Tata and more recently, actors Vinod Khanna and Zeenat Aman. Today, the studio at Ballard Estate, maintains its old world look.

“Many walk in to inquire if we are still functioning. I even bought a board which states ‘Yes, we are open’,” Madhavji says. At the studio, portraits, including family photographs, which used to be family chroniclers, are lined up.

Across old-time photo studios in the city, owners say that the demand for such photos, especially those clicked in studios, has gone down to a great extent. Madhavji, too, says that although the studio is part of the city’s history, many youngsters continue to remain unaware of it.

“I still take 45 minutes to take a portrait and set up as many as 12 lights to click one. This is what I learnt from my father. Now, we are planning to make the studio into a studio gallery to showcase photographs. We have six lakh negatives. I hope to have interns who are interested in photography and history to help us archive,” she says, adding that an intern taught her about Instagram.

“The studio has an account on Instagram now. I update it every few weeks. We have to go with the flow,” she says.

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