“Photography is no longer an art, it used to be,” says Rajkumar Kapoor, owner of Madanjee & Co, a camera store in Chandni Chowk’s ‘camera market’. One of the oldest camera stores here, it was founded in Peshawar by Kapoor’s grandfather, who shifted it to Delhi after Partition and established it in Chandni Chowk in 1955. After his grandfather, the store was owned by Kapoor’s father, and now Kapoor. Like Madanjee & Co, many stores in the camera market have existed since the 1950s, and the ownership has been passed down generations. What was earlier around six stores grew to over 200 now, all packed together.
While the stores display old manual analog cameras, most of their work now deals with repairing and selling digital ones. All surviving shops have adapted with time to the technological shift in photography – from black and white film to colour to digital. A recent revival in film photography has sparked a wave of mostly young customers coming to the market, seeking to repair old cameras which belonged to their parents and grandparents.
Ashoka Studio, one of the first stores one sees on entering the market, has seen an increase in customers who want to have old cameras repaired and film rolls developed. Kapil Inderjeet Vohra of KIV Engineering, one of the oldest camera repair stores, says they get around two cameras a day for repair – substantially more than the two cameras per month they would get earlier. Much like most stores in the market, KIV Engineering has always been a camera repair store, and recently also started offering services of cleaning. Some stores still offer shoots, though that has mostly stopped as most residents have moved out of Chandni Chowk and no longer require the service of in-studio shoots.
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Digital photography still remains the dominant form of photography, and the market largely caters to that, though some still reminisce about the times gone by. “You can take multiple shots on a digital camera. With film it was an art; it used to be time consuming, from the studio set-up till the film got processed. There used to be skill involved. Anyone can do it now. The new generation is ‘clicking’, not ‘understanding’,” says Kapoor, who believes that the renewed interest in film photography doesn’t mean it’s back for good. “There was a time when we thought film would come back, but we were wrong.”
Even though the store still sells black and white film rolls and modern analog cameras, like the Kodak M35 which in Kapoor’s view is akin to a toy, their sale is negligible. The store used to have a photo developing lab, which has now been shut down. For now, only a few shelves at the shop are devoted to analog photography equipment and film.
(The writer is an intern with The Indian Express)