Mahatta & Co
Owned by the Mahatta family since its establishment in 1915, Mahatta & Co is a photography studio that has had branches in cities including Rawalpindi, Murree, Srinagar and New Delhi, where it is currently located. Apart from its famous clientele, the studio is also known for its long history, spanning the decades before and after India’s independence. Over the years, Mahatta & Co has undertaken traditional studio services such as portraiture for institutions and individuals, wedding photography and the development of photographic film. It previously provided services for hand-colouring monochrome photographs, and used to retail camera equipment and photographs of historic events and people.
The first of its studios was established at the Bund, Srinagar, then a popular commercial part of the city by Amar Nath (AN) Mehta, who allegedly modified the spelling of “Mehta” when naming the studio to fit the way it was pronounced by British clients. Briefly, the studio also operated from a houseboat on the Jhelum river that flows through Jammu and Kashmir, possibly to better cater to the area’s many tourists, who might have been attracted to the novelty of a houseboat studio making simple portraits or selling idyllic prints of the landscape and lifestyle of the locals. In its early years, the studio — essentially AN Mehta — was also commissioned by the British military to document their troops in Kashmir. The next branch was opened in Gulmarg in 1921 but was destroyed in a fire in 1930. After this, two studios were set up at Rawalpindi and Murree in present-day Pakistan, but these were closed down after the Partition separated the establishments and the Mahatta family on either side of the new Indo-Pakistan border. The New Delhi branch was established in 1948 and continues to run as the main studio under AN Mehta’s grandsons Pavan and Pankaj, alongside the first branch in Srinagar. Madan Mahatta, the most well known member of the family, is considered to have introduced colour photography in commercial studios in India in 1954 when he returned to the country after completing his studies at Guilford School of Arts and Crafts, Surrey.
Many of Mahatta & Co’s commissioned photographs of dignitaries during the British Raj are portraits taken after hunts along with the remains of the dead animals, as was typical of the time. Key figures whose portraits were shot by the studio include Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Jacqueline Kennedy and the Dalai Lama. The studio also had a long association with royal families, especially Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir who regularly commissioned family portraits from Mahatta & Co. His son, and later Indian National Congress member, Karan Singh, has written the foreword to Pavan Mehta’s book Picturing a Century: Mahatta Studio and the History of Photography in India, 1915–2015, which traces the history of the studio’s work and was launched on World Photography Day, August 19, 2015, to commemorate the studio’s centenary year. Singh also inaugurated the exhibition accompanying the launch at the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, which featured many iconic photographs made by the studio.
At the time of writing, Mahatta & Co operates mainly from the first floor of its New Delhi establishment, having closed down its retail operations in 2017 on the ground floor due to the dwindling sales of film cameras and related products. The Srinagar branch now functions as a museum and photographic archive of the studio’s history and also houses a cafe. The studio founded indiapicture.in in 2006, which functions as a stock photography aggregator for Indian audiences, and launched a film production company called Studio Mahatta in 2012. Its main source of income remains the studio’s services, particularly wedding photography, which has been expanded to Bangkok by the family’s fourth-generation photographer, Arjun Mehta.
Mahatta & Co continues to be regarded as an adaptive business in the dwindling field of photographic studios.
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