Photographic Memories – The New Indian Express

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Express press service

In the scorching heat of a Tuesday afternoon, we enter Janpath’s Punjab Grill restaurant to see a few people enjoying their meals. These people do not know that by taking a few steps in the restaurant, they will set foot in Delhi Photo Company (DPC), one of the oldest photo studios in the city. Ajay Shanker, a third-generation portrait photographer who also runs the restaurant, welcomes us into his office as he scrolls through his iPad to show us some portraits he’s clicked on recently. While the restaurant camouflages the DPC studio very well – it’s at the back of the restaurant – Shanker has done a great job of keeping this space pristine.

Portrait of a lady clicked by
Delhi Photo Society (DPC)

How many of us remember experiencing the joy of being photographed in a photo studio, surrounded by lights, motorized backgrounds and reflectors. In today’s age of instant gratification through smartphone photography, that’s a rarity. DPC, however, perpetuates this art of “creating memories”.

A family legacy

Founded by Shanker’s grandfather, Bhagwati Prasad, in 1937, DPC was the first Indian-established and operated photo studio in Janpath. Prasad had learned photography by working for Photo Service, a photo studio in Kashmere Gate, for a few years. At the time, studio photography was aimed primarily at a royal clientele. In 1938, DPC opened another branch in Mussoorie. “The summers here [in Delhi] it was very hot so they wanted to move to a cooler place for the portraits. That’s when we moved to Mussoorie for a few months,” says Shanker. After India’s independence, DPC was appointed as the official portrait photographer of Presidents of India. Until the late 1980s, they were responsible for taking portraits of all Indian government ministers. A photograph of Rajendra Prasad, India’s first president, still hangs on the wall in Shanker’s office. You will also find other original photographs of Indian royalty that were clicked by his father, Vijay Shankar, and his grandfather.

There was a time when DPC also took proposal photos and passport-size photos for people. However, their job is mainly to photograph portraits. “The street or landscapes have never fascinated me, people have… and that too in controlled lighting”, shares Shanker, who has also worked as a photographer on many Bollywood films such as Tango Charlie (2005) , Dil Maange More (2004), Aabra Ka Daabra (2004).

Lighting is a key technique when it comes to creating a successful image. What makes DPC timeless is the lighting technique they use when clicking the portraits. “We create a set where there are eight to ten lights on one person. They are not flashes but continuous lights. No one in India does such portraits,” Shanker explains.

Preserving an endangered art

With the advent of the mobile camera resulting in a click and capture culture, Shanker mentions that studio photography lost its relevance after 2007. A number of photo studios closed because of this. “In 2008, 2009, we realized that we couldn’t just depend on the studio; no one could. The portrait work could certainly continue, but it wouldn’t help with sustenance,” says Shanker. a restaurant – Shanker operates a franchise of Punjab Grill.

DPC, however, continues to exist. Even though the clients are relatively few, Shanker still takes commissioned works and travels around the country to capture portraits. He has also published a book, titled Effortless Hindi: A Humorous Version of Learning Basic Hindi with Photographs. The book is a beginner’s guide to the language, but with the help of a series of photographs clicked by Shanker during his travels. Another book, Studio in the Village is in progress.

Shanker’s office isn’t short of a gallery. Adorned with several types of cameras and many photographs clicked over the years, the place harbors vestiges of history. For DPC houses rich in heritage, he can very well be considered a hidden gem in Delhi and Shanker no less an artist who has preserved and carried forward this legacy. He is convinced that DPC is here to stay. His sons Aryan (17) and Damian (14) have nurtured the same interest in photography as their father and their ancestors. Shanker is now looking forward to bringing the photo studio back to the masses. “It’s not something that should be lost,” he concludes.


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