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Photo Essay

‘Photo Studio’ tells a story about photography in the age of selfies

Print edition : Nov 12, 2022 T+T-

Photo Studio’ tells a story about photography in the age of selfies

STUDIO KAMAL, Cuttack, Orissa, 2016; Pigment print; Edition of 10, 2sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in

STUDIO KAMAL, Cuttack, Orissa, 2016; Pigment print; Edition of 10, 2sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

The collection by Ketaki Sheth is an absorbing album of contemporary life and its attachments.

Ketaki Sheth has been a photographer for four decades and she used only black-and-white film until 2014. Photo Studio (Photoink, 2018) marks the veteran’s extraordinary transition to colour using the digital medium.

VICTORY STUDIO
Secunderabad, Telangana, 2016
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
VICTORY STUDIO Secunderabad, Telangana, 2016 Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth
ASTARAG STUDIO
Nuagaon, Orissa, 2016
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
ASTARAG STUDIO Nuagaon, Orissa, 2016 Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

The Mumbai-based Sheth’s work is part of major museum and private collections across the world. Among her other well-known publications are Twinspotting: Photographs of Patel Twins in Britain & India (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2000); and Bombay Mix: Street Photographs (Dewi Lewis Publishing and Sepia International, 2007).

STUDIO 786
Cuttack, Orissa, 2016
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in & 36 x 24 in
STUDIO 786 Cuttack, Orissa, 2016 Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in & 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth
PRINCE STUDIO
Bhavnagar, Gujarat, 2016 
Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24
x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
PRINCE STUDIO Bhavnagar, Gujarat, 2016  Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

Sheth’s solo exhibitions include “On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent” at the National Portrait Gallery, London (2015); “A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Africans of Indian Descent” at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (2013); and “Bombay Mix” at Emile Zola Gallery and at Fête du Livre, Aix-en-Provence (2008).

PHOTOTEC STUDIO
Calicut, Kerala, 2015
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
PHOTOTEC STUDIO Calicut, Kerala, 2015 Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth
NANDORANI STUDIO
24 Parganas, West Bengal, 2016
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in 
NANDORANI STUDIO 24 Parganas, West Bengal, 2016 Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in  | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

Between 2015 and 2018, Sheth, now 65, travelled across India and visited over 65 photo studios, many of which were in a shabby state of decline. While photo studios in India have been explored and written about extensively, Sheth’s approach to studios has been anything but conventional. She often ignores strict conventions of making formal portraits of people with inscrutable expressions. Instead, she uses ageing studio lights when available, a handheld camera, and a 35mm lens to exhume tales of past glory and draw one’s attention to objects and a cast of characters that surrender gracefully to her gaze.

MOTI ART STUDIO
Ajmer, Rajasthan, 2016
Pigment print; Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
MOTI ART STUDIO Ajmer, Rajasthan, 2016 Pigment print; Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth
SITARAM DIGITAL STUDIO
Bhavnagar, Gujarat, 2016 
Pigment print;
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
SITARAM DIGITAL STUDIO Bhavnagar, Gujarat, 2016  Pigment print; Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

Photo Studio is as much a story about photography in the age of selfies as it is about contemporary life and attachments. Over the years, Sheth has shown remarkable facility as she shifts seamlessly between the posed portrait and street photography.

“Ketaki Sheth shifts seamlessly between the posed portrait and street photography.”

The book, designed by Itu Chaudhuri, complements Sheth’s aesthetic sensibility without conceding to either humour or pathos in the way the book unfolds. Christopher Pinney’s essay provides the historical and theatrical context to photo studios in India and Sheth’s fluid interventions in those spaces.

JAGDISH PHOTO STUDIO
Manori, Maharashtra, 2015 
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in 
JAGDISH PHOTO STUDIO Manori, Maharashtra, 2015  Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in  | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

In her essay in the book, Sheth says: “It was in Manori, sometime in 2014, that I discovered the nondescript Jagdish Photo Studio wedged between a hardware store and a grain depot on the main strip. I poked into its empty cramped space and saw a blue plastic stool against a sheer red curtain. It was a calling. I had to step in. After meeting the manager and fixing a mutually convenient time to work here, I knew I would have no problem finding sitters in a place so intimate and familiar. I soon began making portraits of local residents. As my sitters streamed in, an idea slowly formed. The studio’s quaint setting, fixtures, old-fashioned diaphanous backdrops together with the confident formality of the subjects, gripped me.

BABAS STUDIO
Trivandrum, Kerala, 2016 
Pigment print; Edition of 10, 2 sizes
available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
BABAS STUDIO Trivandrum, Kerala, 2016  Pigment print; Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth
JAGDISH PHOTO STUDIO
Manori, Maharashtra, 2015
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
JAGDISH PHOTO STUDIO Manori, Maharashtra, 2015 Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

“I sought similar situations elsewhere in India. In the three years that followed, from 2015-2018, I found over 65 studios—some adapting to survive but many on the brink of collapse. My photographs are a residual memory of a moment once cherished, but now fast eroding in the age of the smart phone. In my pictures I have tried to infuse a mood of a bygone past with a contemporary eye.”

ASHOK PHOTO STUDIO
Hyderabad, Telangana, 2016
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 
2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
ASHOK PHOTO STUDIO Hyderabad, Telangana, 2016 Pigment print Edition of 10,  2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth
ASHOK PHOTO STUDIO
Hyderabad, Telangana, 2016
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
ASHOK PHOTO STUDIO Hyderabad, Telangana, 2016 Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

To accompany the exhibition, Chemould Prescott Road has created a photo studio within its gallery using original backdrops from her project. Visitors are invited to use this studio to make their own pictures aided by a lighting technician.

PHOTOTEC STUDIO
Calicut, Kerala, 2015
Pigment print
Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
PHOTOTEC STUDIO Calicut, Kerala, 2015 Pigment print Edition of 10, 2 sizes available: 24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth
THARA STUDIO
Ramanattukara, Kerala, 2016
Pigment print
Edition of 10 
2 sizes available: 
24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in
THARA STUDIO Ramanattukara, Kerala, 2016 Pigment print Edition of 10  2 sizes available:  24 x 16 in and 36 x 24 in | Photo Credit: Ketaki Sheth

Ketaki Sheth will also be available to make commissioned portraits by appointment.

For enquiries, please email: communication@gallerychemould.com. The show is on display until October 20, 2022.

Devika Daulet-Singh is the director of Photoink, New Delhi.