The short walk from the City Palace to Hawa Mahal in Jaipur takes you along a typical strip of the Pink City, lined with handicraft shops and their attendants waiting to ambush the passing tourist trade. Until you reach a scene that is perhaps a little unexpected, even in a country where the unexpected should be the norm.
Standing alone, almost appearing as if abandoned and forgotten about, stands a battered 1860 Carl Zeiss camera perched on top of a rickety, much repaired wooden tripod. I paused for a moment to try and make sense of what I was seeing, before then being greeted by Surendar Chand and his brother Tikam.
The camera originally belonged to Pahari Master, their grandfather, and has been handed down to the brothers who have spent their lives offering a ‘one minute’ photo service to passers by.
They explained that their grandfather was once the royal photographer for the Maharaja of Jaipur, but with that demise the camera became a tourist attraction that has persisted ever since.
One of the brothers sets to work focusing the camera on the bench opposite where his subjects would sit. He then races round to the front to pose himself so I can see what’s happening at the back of the camera. The image projected through to the glass plate was almost magical.
There is no shutter button of course, instead a cap on the front of the lens is removed for 1-2 seconds in order to achieve the desired exposure. What I didn’t realise immediately was that this ancient wooden camera also had a darkroom built on the back.
Once a negative is taken it’s placed in a bucket of water to remove all the chemicals and is then photographed itself, thus turning a negative image to a positive image.
The brothers offer a range of services with this 155 year old antique, the last surviving of this model. Sepia toning is possible, but it takes over two days to produce. They can also offer manual photoshop-like alterations, a “delux service” via the application of chemicals to blacken your hair or even give you a royal mustache. All of these touches are done by instinct alone.
In the 1860s they used Gavit Paper for developing the pictures which later gave way to Indu Paper. Now they use Noa Lustre, which is not available in Jaipur, and makes sustaining their livelihood all the more difficult. They have had to source paper from further away; Delhi, Ahmadabad, and Chennai, but supplies are now extremely scarce as demand has all but disappeared.
A Polaroid hand crafted by these brothers will cost you around Rs 200. For that you will have a unique image that would not look out of place in a treasured Victorian photograph album of your ancestors.
“Clicking pictures used to be an art form”, Chand explains. “Now all the thinking has disappeared and all they do is click a button or mouse”. Clearly he is quite passionate on such subjects.
“Digital cameras can never give such joy, nor will these new cameras survive getting dropped all the time”.
Judging by the state of the repaired and taped up tripod, I suspect he is talking from some experience.
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Categories: The 1860 Carl Zeiss