Bourne & Shepherd, Kolkata
Established in 1863 by Samuel Bourne, Charles Shepherd and William Howard (who left in 1866), Bourne & Shepherd is one of the oldest photographic studios in the world still in operation at SN Banerjee Road in Kolkata. At its peak, it had agencies all over India, and outlets in London and Paris. First set up in Shimla, the Kolkata branch opened in 1887 and a Mumbai one in 1876. To its credit, the studio has produced the only existing photograph of the Indian saint Sri Ramakrishna. In 1911, they were the official photographers of the Delhi Durbar and were given the title Kaiser-e-Hind, which is still used as part of its official letterhead.
In 1991, the studio lost almost its entire treasure trove in an inferno. Jayant Gandhi, the studio’s present owner, is trying to piece together the photographs, now strewn all over the world in prestigious collections, such as that of the Smithsonian in the US. Price point: A 5x7-inch family portrait costs a modest Rs 200 (four prints).
Indian Art Studio, Mumbai
The intersection of Princess Street and Kalbadevi in one of South Mumbai’s oldest colonial neighbourhoods is named Chhayachitrakar Chaddha Chowk to commemorate the photographer who founded Indian Art Studio at the junction. Mumbai’s oldest operational studio opened in 1917 and still meticulously maintains its century-old collection of sumptuously bedecked family photos, some of which hang in frames on its wood-panelled walls. The present proprietor, Rajesh Chaddha, plans to develop the basement of the studio into a gallery for the studio’s early photographs.
Photograph: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Also worth a mention is the Hamilton Studio (established in 1928) in Ballard Estate, which was patronized by J.R.D. Tata. The studio retains its original posing space and has several vintage cameras, including an Eastman Kodak 1950 and paraphernalia on view. Price point: Portrait packages start at Rs 15,000 for a set of assorted shots.
GK Vale, Bangalore
The first GK Vale store opened in 1910 on South Parade in Bangalore, now called MG Road, under the proprietorship of Gangadhar Kumara Vale. Over the years, the store has opened 25 branches across Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore. While they did open at a time when the rich were still getting portraits of themselves painted, the studio gained popularity with those who wanted matrimonial and family portraits. Price point: Portrait packages start at Rs 699.
Mahatta & Co, New Delhi
Mahatta & Co. was first set up in Sialkot in 1915 by Amar Nath Mehta and it subsequently moved to Shimla, where it still exists. His son, Madan Mehta, has been running the Connaught Place studio in New Delhi since 1954. The British found “Mehta” difficult to pronounce, prompting the name “Mahatta”.
Mehta trained in England at the Guildford School of Art between 1951-53. He was one among the first batch of students who worked with colour. On his return, he introduced new colour technology at the family studio, making it the first studio in India to use the negative-positive colour printing process. It was also the first studio to launch automated colour processing in 1970 and bring digital slide-making to India in 1986. Price point: A family sitting starts at Rs 7,500.
Photo Emporium, Chennai
Photo Emporium, established in 1927, is not only Chennai’s oldest operational photo studio, but has flourished since its inception. The studio’s largest branch is the decade-old Poonamallee High Road outlet, and its newest is near IT Park. All of them are digital. Photo Emporium set standards in its time as one of India’s largest importers of film and photo paper from Italy, Japan and the US. “Each step taken along the way to deliver the Perfect Image,” their website proclaims. With over eight decades in the business, they’re qualified to take a shot at it. Price point: Portrait packages start at Rs 2,500 for a set of 10 assorted shots.