Established in 1928 by Victor Sassoon in Bombay (now Mumbai), Hamilton Studios is one of the oldest photography studios in India and is renowned for its portraits of the British elite and Indian royalty, as well as photographs of eminent actors and political figures of the country. Named after Lady Hamilton, an eighteenth-century English actress, the studio is located at Ballard Estate, Mumbai, and has a growing archive of over six hundred thousand images.
Sassoon established the studio in his house to explore his interest in photography and provide studio photographs to Bombay’s elite. Regular clientele of the studio included members of the royal families of India, British nobility, notable figures like BR Ambedkar and JRD Tata, as well as actors such as Vinod Khanna and Zeenat Aman. The studio also made some well known early portraits of Madhubala, Nadia Hunterwali, Vijaya Raje Scindia and Mohammad Reza Shah. After Sassoon’s return to England following India’s independence in 1947, the studio and its archives remained relatively ignored until 1957, when they were bought by Ranjit Madhavji, then a cloth merchant and hobby photographer. The studio is currently run by Ajita Madhavji, who inherited it from her father in the 1980s.
In addition to portraits, the studio also photographed events such as weddings, birthdays and graduations, as well as calendar shoots. Its early portraits are characterised by a lamp-bathed luminosity and their careful precision. Even before colour processing found its way into the studio, gentle tints of magenta, added by hand, are evident in the sarees and frocks of some of the subjects in, for instance, a portrait of the Birla family. The photographs also used the curtains and furniture of the studio as props; more recent photographs incorporate backdrops, some painted by Ajita Madhavji.
The contemporary interiors of the studio display its famous portraits on the walls and retain most of its original fixtures and equipment, such as a 1928 Kodak plate camera. After years of staying strictly analog, the studio has now embraced digital technologies. Despite this, most of the studio’s archives were manually stored on the premises, resulting in considerable damage from the humidity and heat of Bombay. In 2018, the British Library awarded a grant as part of their Endangered Archive Programme to clean, scan and digitise twenty-five thousand of the glass-plate negatives, celluloid prints and memorabilia from the studio archives, dating between 1928-47.
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