Every year when I was growing up I would be taken to a photographic studio with my brother and sometimes cousins for a family photograph. It was an occasion. Few people had cameras then and photography was a serious, professional business. Today it seems that anyone can be a photographer. Mobile phones snap away millions of times a day and images are quickly circulated on Facebook Twitter, Instagram and whatever other channels I have yet to catch up with. Few people bother to print hard copies of pictures, preferring to stick to digital files, understandable in a way as millions of images can be kept electronically without the need for any physical space. But convenient as all of this may be, it has none of the romance of having your photograph taken in the old way.
Today in Jaipur I stepped back into the glorious past of photography and took advantage of the excellent services of Mr Tikam Chand, a third generation street photographer who, since 1977 has been using his grandfather's 160 years old German Zeiss camera. Pahari Lal (the grandfather) and then his father occupied the same spot outside shop 120 on Hawa Mahal Road in the old city. Examples of his work are attached to the side of the camera, whilst pictures of the previous two generations of photographer are affixed to the wall behind him. These include a picture of his father, strikingly handsome with a mop of wavy black hair.
The process is not rushed. Mr Chand explains a little about the camera. Then he positions clients on an 80 years old black metal chair, also purchased by the grandfather, disappears briefly under the hood and makes sure all is well before removing the lens cover for just a few seconds in order to take the picture. Black and white images are developed immediately using a bucket, water and various chemicals to complete the process. Sepia pictures can also be produced but take 2-3 days to be developed. This kind of business is always a tough one and as time goes on more challenges are presented. He can no longer obtain the chemicals he needs in India and has to import them from France at some expense.
As I waited for the picture to develop, Mr Chand spoke to passing tourists, inviting them to look at the camera with its internal darkroom, developer and fixer. He also asked me to re-take the seat so that they could see me "upside down". Many of them are too young ever to have had their picture taken in this way and few will have much experience of seeing black and white photography.
In just a few minutes my picture is ready. For just 300 rupees - about £3.40 I am handed a black and white image together with a negative. Using my camera, Mr Chand kindly took a picture of me standing beside these two images. I am delighted. I was also delighted by his proximity to Pandit Kulfi - a little shop selling this delicious Indian dessert. For just 30 rupees - less than 50p - I enjoyed a very satisfying almond and pistachio kulfi on a stick. Only in India.
If you visit Jaipur, don't just come and see the camera - have your picture taken. Mr Chand also has a Facebook page - the Old Photography.
My picture cost 300 rupees. Three sizes of photograph are available at varying prices.
With the exception of his portrait, all the pictures on this post were taken by Mr. Chand.
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