How have you been taking your photos this festive season? Let me guess: On your phone. But have you then printed them, or posted them directly on your Facebook?
Just six years ago, on festivals like Teej and Dashain, Lawa Kusa Photo Studio in Chikamugal, Kathmandu used to be jam packed. Studio owner Rajendra Joshi’s father had opened the studio in 1975 after studying photography in Banaras, India. Rajendra remembers a time when on the day of Teej women would start flocking to their studio from early morning.
“Even though phones had arrived by then, not everybody owned a good camera phone. People wanted good snaps and relied on photo studios for them,” says Rajendra. He remembers taking about 180-200 photos just on the day of Teej. During Gai Jatra, when the crowd passed by his studio, people used to shout loudly, “Rajendra dai, please come out and take a photo of us.” But now, people rarely come for a photo, ever.
Such is also the experience of Ravi Muni Bajracharya, the owner of Muni’s Studio, which is just 4-5 houses away from Lawa Kusa. It was also Ravi Muni’s father who opened the studio in 1966 when he was just a little kid. He recalls coming back from school when he was in class 2 and doing home-work in that little studio, which still exists in Chikamugal.
“After clicking photos, people had to wait for about 15 days to get their color photos,” Ravi Muni fondly recalls. Back then, his father sent the reel to Bangkok for development. “Before 1983, this was how people got their photographs. A 10*8 colored photograph cost you Rs 20 to Rs 45 each; it costs Rs 150 to Rs 200 now.” Sometimes, photos destined for Kathmandu would reach Patan after they came back from Bangkok. The studio owners somehow had to find a way to make sure their customers got their photos.
“Before, there was a sense of anticipation as people waited for the development of their photos, and that got me excited too. But now you can immediately see the result, which kind of spoils the fun,” says Rajendra.
Siddhi Ratna Bajracharya liked photography so much he started visiting libraries and reading photography books. In 1978 he opened his own Scenario Studio in Bagbazar. Back then people usually came for passport-size photos or family photos. “The first Miss Nepal 1994 Ruby Rana had visited my studio for a photoshoot for ‘Kamana’ magazine,” Siddhi Ratna says excitedly. Good cam-eras were expensive, costing anywhere between Rs 50,000-Rs 100,000—a big amount at the time. Even though the rich people of Kathmandu owned cameras, they would still summon professional photographers to their homes to take photos, he adds. Business was great and there was compara-tively less competition. Rajendra remembers big studios like Photo Con-cern, Hicola and Fuji Studios each doing roaring business. People had to visit studios for photos for their citizenship card, license, or for submissions to educational institutions. “Now, there is smart license, and even for citizenship, one does not need a photo,” says Rajendra, whose business has taken a hard knock. Many of Hicola’s branches have closed down while Photo Concern’s studios have shrunk in size. Sensing the inevitable changes, Siddhi Ratna closed his studio 14 years ago. His friends who also owned studios at the time said that he would regret closing a popular studio. He replied that it is they who would suffer if they refused to change with the business climate. “Soon enough, all my friends had closed their studios,” he says. “People do not even print their photos now,” says Rajendra. “They just take photos and upload them on Facebook, or store them on their comput-er.” Some still visit to get a few photos from their mobile phones printed in fear of losing important photos to viruses. “But selecting 1-2 photos from thousands in their phones is time consuming,” says Rajendra.Some studios have adapted too. Ravi Muni’s son Rishav and Siddhi Ratna’s son Sijal are now involved in event photography and digital marketing respectively. “The business now depends largely on my son,” says Ravi Muni. He believes that even though it is easier to work now, with more and more people owing good cameras, “competition has also increased exponentially.”