Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Photo studios and old photographs

(Internet image)

Owning a camera was big deal up to the 1970s. There was no camera in our home until 1970. Agfa's Clik III came in the mid 70s. Our family had toured Jog falls and Gokarna in 1969. For this trip a maternal uncle offered his box camera, an Ansco Pioneer (which was something like this) which was given to him by a friend. It could use a coated paper film roll that took twelve exposures per roll!! Film was '120' type. Imagine today how we click our digital cameras in thousands!! That film paper was red on the outside and black on the coated side and while winding we had to set the number carefully in the little red window. We could record some memorable scenes of the trip with this humble camera. I remember we bought one more roll in Gokarna because all the 12 in the first roll was done with. On our trip to Bombay (now Mumbai) the same year, that camera did not travel with us. So memories of that (first long trip by train) are not in albums!

On the left is Ansco camera. (See this link with some description)

On the right is an Agfa given by a friend (never used, just showcased).

Our first camera, the type one had to hold in front of the tummy and look down at it's wide viewfinder lens, was bought in 1970 for Rs.100/- (a substantial sum in that time) as a family gift to take pictures for my Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony). On that day, 3 rolls of 12 exposures each were finished with all the excitement. In the absence of flash bulbs, all lights in our hall were put on. The ceremony was at home. While my cousin clicked, others were holding table lamps trying to 'spotlight' on the area of 'action'. What a circus it was, amidst a sea of people witnessing the Upanayanam in the largish hall. My cousin had tested a roll before the event and results seemed good.

After the event, the rolls were 'washed'. Everyone was waiting to see the pictures. Lo and behold! All exposures were washed out, much to our disappointment! All the light that was lit was just insufficient for that camera! But, an uncle who was a 'foreign returned', had taken one shot with his camera that had a flash bulb. This is the only one that stays on for record and much treasured! All efforts from my cousin unfortunately turned out to be 'empty photography'! But my own experience three decades later was even emptier! Read about it!

This is my uncle's only picture to tell the story of that day! 30th April, 1970.

I remember my late cousin 1n 1970, trying to photograph my mother's Rangoli art she did on Varamahalakshmi Vrata. When I got older I got a few opportunities to load the roll and shoot some just for fun. But that was very short-lived. By early 80s its film became unavailable and this was cornered and I gave it to a friend. Now I am unable to recall its brand name.

People had a fancy to get photographed or to record events but not everyone possessed a camera (even for that matter, wrist watches, radios, scooters or cars!). Camera and photography were expensive affairs. Some of those who could afford, did some photography and a few of them developed pictures in their own homes for fun and hobby. Our good old tenant by name Gopinath who lived upstairs was having a camera because photography was his passion. He used to work at KR Mills when it was at its zenith. It was because of him many of our pictures in our album can show how people looked like in the late 1950s and 60s. I still cherish them.

Photo studios were in vogue since 1930s or so. Long later I came to know of Star Studio near Woodland Theatre, which had a great reputation for its sharp group pictures. My only visit there was around 1980s when our cricket team picture was arranged. But I have very vague memories of visiting Raj & Bros. (opposite Raghulal & Co, druggists) off Sayyaji Rao Road, when I was very young. I can remember a small round object (which was the lens) mounted on what looked like a wooden partition with those light bulbs behind ground glass sheets that diffused light and on either side of that lens. I was asked to stay still, smile and look at the lens! (The camera was hidden behind the 'partition'! Then the photographer would choose the right moment to turn a lever (at the right speed) that worked the camera shutter. Many are here in this web album (click)

As a young kid, it was a weird feeling when I was made to sit on a tall wooden desk in front of that 'partition'. With crying kids it required patience on the part of the photographer and those who accompanied the kid to calm it down. At times, they would beg the kid to smile and wooden toys were given so that a good shot could be taken.

Observe the wooden toy elephant and train here.

Many of our pictures in our album has the embossing of Raj & Bros. Most of the people in those days knew my grandfather as he was quite renown. So I think the owner of the studio knew him as well because my grandfather's very old office was in nearby Gandhi Square and also perhaps he specialized in children's stills. It appears that one of my pictures was prominently displayed at the studio among the samples which gave great pride to my grandmother, mother and aunt.
These are pictures (click to enlarge) of my father and maternal aunt taken most likely in the very early 1940s. Observe the artistic pencil-signature of "Raj Bros, Mysore City" and embossed address on my aunt's picture, which perhaps is of a slightly later time.

Raj & Bros. seemed to be great patriots of the Nation. Small complimentary pictures of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and our beloved Mysore Maharaja (Jayachamaraja Wadiyar) were distributed to the public to show his love for the city and country (probably also to advertise). They adorn our vintage album. Raj & Bros. were "photographers by appointment to the Maharaja of Mysore". Royal recognition and a great privilege!

His Highness Jayachamaraja Wadiyar

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, when he was the Prime Minister of India

Mahatma Gandhi

After many decades, I was at this studio and it still exists in the same old building (looked ill maintained for what reason I know not) with the same old furniture though I did not see that 'partition' with lights and camera - but an assistant was working at a computer in a corner. I saw some very old pictures of hindi film heroines and of course the Mysore Maharajas. As I came out and looked up at the board, it read in Kannada "digital studio"!

Raj & Bros. Studio

Those black and white pictures seem to last forever and those that Raj & Bros. have taken, give us cherishing moments with those wonderfully beautiful images on matt paper.

Procuring "35mm" cameras (film width) that took 36 exposures either in black & white or colour was something great! A great jump from the old paper film type. In the centre is a Russian camera my friend 'threw it to me'. I repaired a small flaw and used it until I got the Canon automatic. Both are now at rest because the invasion of the digital camera has brought out a little shutterbug in me.

We no longer talk about selective photography with merely a dozen photos per roll, but in hundreds and thousands in Gigabytes!

The B&Ws are the ones that are going to stay for posterity!


Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Fab photos Dinu. Those were the days. I remember owning a Click III. That was a lot of fun. So many of those old albums are lying around in the attic in Mysore, I take them out occasionally when I go to India, brings back memories in black and white!

sfindia said...

Great to read your memories. I'm from England and just moved to Mysore. I'm a keen photographer and would like to find old photos of people so I might just see if Raj and Brothers is still there.

Gouri Satya said...

Great Dinu. About a year back, I went to this Raj Studio, one of the earliest studios to be set up in Mysore and spoke to the owner, who continues the family business. They were also early producers of Kannada films. Wanted to go again to take some pix. But nice to see them here in your blog.

Amrit Yegnanarayan said...

Great post. Brings back a lot of memories of my early photography days - 120mm and then 35mm. I still have my first camera with me - a Gevabox (120) which predates the Click III (I think so). I also have with me my father's very early camera, a Voigtlander Bessa (also 120) - everything is manual, including using an external rangefinder to get the distance and set it on the lens. Also need to set the aperture, shutter speed, cock the shutter and then click. Finally, I have an old Rolliecord from my cousin. I ran a roll thru these cameras a few years ago and got good results - did the development at home using the good old Kodak D76.

Amrit Yegnanarayan said...

Way back in the 60s, there used to be a shop called MAT Acharya (KR Circle, next to Sreenivasa Stores) used to sell sports goods and also some photo material (paper & chemicals). This shop is long gone. We also used to buy film (ORWO), Hypo and D76 developer at Phono And General Agency, Sayyaji Rao Road. They also used to sell records, tapes, phonographs etc.I wonder if it is still around and if so, what they do.

Nishanth(Nish) Gurumurthy said...

Hello Dinakar
Firstly, A wonderful read, everything covered in detail. I am a film-maker currently based in Bangalore and was looking to document an old studio which still developed reels and has great history and wonderful story of its own. Can you tell me, if Raj Bros studio still exist in mysore? I would like to make a video and publish it online.
Sorry if this message is too abrupt. Please feel free to look at my works here:

Nishanth Gurumurthy