INDIA'S PORTRAIT STUDIO PHOTOGRAPHERS
The humble Indian portrait studio photographer is an integral part of every community across the subcontinent. Servicing the needs of the average Indian household - family portraits, passport photos, weddings - you'll find them in every town and city, with there narrow shop frontages illuminated by Kodak advertisements, and tiny studios out back. As recently as the 1990s hand-painted scenic studio backdrops were a popular choice for private portraits. No two are exactly the same. In a tradition that dates back to the 19th century, when photography and its European styling was introduced to the subcontinent via the British Raj, these atmospheric cloth backdrops developed their own Indian vernacular. They were widely used as picturesque, exotic and colourful backgrounds to spice-up the image of the portrait subject.
In recent decades, regrettably, the hand-painted backdrops are an element of Indian culture that is being swept to the side by the ever pervasive influence of the West. They’re loosing their appeal in contemporary India where simple plain colour backdrops are more commonly preferred and requested by clients.
Paying homage to the portraitists, and in an effort to capture an endangered tradition, I hunted through the markets of a number of northern cities to find photographers who still use these vibrant backdrops in their studios. I photographed each of them in front of their hand-painted studio backdrops, letting them pose in idiosyncratic Indian style.
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