May 15th – The last of the best
If you are a fan of Satyajit Ray’s Bengali super sleuth Feluda, then you must remember the famous narrative from “Gorosthane Sabdhan”, where Felu Mitter discovers that “B.S.”, a clue written on a slip of paper, actually stands for “Bourne & Shepherd”. It is the same Bourne & Shepherd — one of world’s oldest photo studio — that put its shutters down May 15, after a rich legacy of 176 years, crumbling to advancement of modern digital technology.
Etched in Kolkata’s history
Established in heart of Central Kolkata’s Esplanade area in 1840 by British photographers William Howard, Samuel Bourne and Charles Shepherd, the iconic Bourne & Shepherd finally gave in to demands of modern age photography that rest upon digital improvisations. The studio stood as a landmark during the British-Raj era in Calcutta (Now Kolkata). Later, it became a hotbed of activities among the intelligentsias of Bengal including oscar winning director Satyajit Ray, nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, poet Sunil Gangopadhyay and others.
Portraits of saints and emperors
The studio bears the honour of capturing the portrait of the great Hindu religious leader Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Other mentionable works include an albumen print of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II while he was in exile under the British in 1858 and a portrait of Rudyard Kipling. Bourne & Shepherd captured some of important moments of the bygone British era, which now dons the walls of Smithsonian group of museums in Washington, National Portrait Gallery in London, Cambridge University Library and National Geographic Society.
The inevitable end
Both the photographers were given the title ‘Kaiser-e-Hind’ in 1911 for documenting ‘Delhi Durbar’ held to commemorate the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India. Now, the building that houses the studio bears a deserted look. A 1991 fire inferno ravaged the studio destroying 90 percent of the print and incurring a major financial loss. Since then, the studio had lost its charm. Studio’s present owner Jayant Gandhi told The Hindu, “Things are not the same anymore. Technology has changed and I have grown old. How will I run it.” Only a handful of some of those oldest frames and glass negatives are now left in the hands of the studio which has changed many owners in its long history.