The World's Oldest Photo Studio Shutters For Good

Sudipta Mallick, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Sudipta Mallick, Flickr // CC BY 2.0 / Sudipta Mallick, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For well over a century, photography studio Bourne & Shepherd operated out of a four-story building in Kolkata. Serving as the setting for portraits of politicians and dignitaries, writers, artists, and everyday Indian citizens, the studio continued to operate even as technology changed and other photography studios began to disappear. But now, Hyperallergic reports, Bourne & Shepherd has finally closed its doors and put away its cameras for good. The closure marks the end not only of a historic Kolkata shop, but of the longest continuously running photography studio in the world.

Founded in 1863 by Samuel Bourne and Charles Shepherd, Bourne & Shepherd once had numerous locations throughout India, as well as in Paris and London. The Kolkata shop opened in 1910 and was operated by European proprietors before being acquired by K.J. Ajmer and Jayant Gandhi in 1964. The pair continued to run the studio until it closed this April.

During the 19th century, Hyperallergic explains, photographer Samuel Bourne not only ran photography studios, he also traveled throughout India, documenting its people and traditions. Later, photographers employed by the studio were hired to be the official photographers of the Delhi Durbar of 1911, commemorating the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. Over the course of the mid to late 20th century, meanwhile, the Kolkata studio became known for matchmaking portraits of potential brides.

“Portraits were our strength,” Gandhi told Quartz. “There was a time when Bengali families had to get a pretty picture of their daughter clicked for the matrimonial agencies. There were no cameras at home and where else would you go but to the studio? After they got married, they would come to the studio for a couple-photograph.”

After almost a century in operation, the studio finally fell on hard times in 1991 when a fire destroyed part of the building. Now, after a 14-year legal battle involving problems with the building and rent, Gandhi has officially decided to retire. He told Quartz that after so many years, his customers and employees were like family, making the shop’s closure bittersweet. “Some of them had been with me for three decades and more,” he explained. “They still call me to find out if I am doing all right. It feels good.”

[h/t Hyperallergic]