Not too long ago, in many homes, family photographs took pride of place. Hung on the walls, displayed on the mantelpiece or placed on the bedside table, images of family members would be an inextricable part of homes. A visit to the photo studio was almost like a ritual that was sacred. Suresh Punjabi’s ongoing online exhibition Suresh Punjabi: The Business of Dreams at MAP shares a glimpse of this ritual and also the rarefied space where it took place.
Camera phones and changing attitudes have drastically cut down our visits to photo studios. So what happens inside a studio today? Do people still visit photo studios to get a picture apart from their passport and matrimonial requirements?
Anand Sukumar, Managing Director, GK Vale, a photography store that came into the business in 1910, says people still visit photo studios for family portraits. “Before festivals, especially Christmas, several families come to us for a studio portrait. It was like a tradition – in a lot of Christian weddings, after the mass, families would come to us for a studio portrait and then head back for the reception. It continues to date,” says Sukumar. He adds that even for Christmas, when a family member returns from abroad, families visit photo studios to get a picture taken.
Image Courtesy: G.K. Vale Studio
Sukumar states, “Earlier those who didn’t have a camera came to the studio for a portrait but these days people take pictures on their phones but still if someone wants a good portrait, they need a professional photographer. So all our outlets have a dedicated photo studio with a makeup room and make up artists. Portraiture remains a big part of our portfolio. The weekends are quite packed for us and on weekdays we do a decent amount of portraits.”
But today inside a photo studio, a scene won’t play out like it did in Punjabi’s Studio Suhag in the 70s. A sitter is unlikely to get clicked with a bunch of grapes, dialling a phone or transistors resting on shoulder. A photo studio is no longer a place to realise one’s fantasies. “They want natural candid photographs.”
The walk-ins to get a photograph clicked may have reduced but the interest in high quality cameras, prints, frames and merchandise has only increased over the years. People want large prints and many more surfaces to print. “We have 150 products that people can print images on like T-shirts, iPhone covers, coffee mugs and laptop covers etc. People are investing in image quality and large images. For instance a wildlife photographer wants to print it in a 4 by 3 size.”
Image Courtesy: G.K. Vale Studio
Anand Sukumar is the fourth generation to take care of the family business. In 1910, his great grandfather Gangadhara Kumara Velu began it with a modest capital of Rs.100. Known as Madras Stores, it began its innings on Brigade Road. Portraiture has always been a strength of GK Vale. As the official photographer of Maharaja of Mysore and Travancore, GK Vale has some incredible portraits to its credit. Today, corporate heads like Narayana Murthy are its regular clients. “Prakash Padukone had visited our studio for a family picture and we still have it. In the pre-independence era we used to take images of a lot of Britishers and they would find it difficult to pronounce Velu so it became Vale.”