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The strange world of Jhatpat photo studios
Instant or ‘Jhatpat’ photos came much before instant coffee or noodles. Though the camera and the technique is antiquated, fast delivery, low cost and solidarity has ensured its continuance. We profile this dying profession.
IT IS around 11 a.m. Be it the busy court areas, Municipal Corporation, Housing Board or the office of the Lucknow Development Authority, you will these offices and the vicinity abuzz with the routine chorus.
 
People wait and try to get different types of work. And in most of the cases, especially near the court and Muncipal Corporation, one often requires a photograph, which a studio would take at least 24 hours to deliver or a Polaroid shot would cost you about Rs.100, for 10 photos.
 
Don’t worry, if your pocket does not allow you to avail the modern facility from the studios. Jhatpat studios offer an answer, especially the poor.
 
These nomadic lensmen may be seen around the court, Collectorate, the transport offices, and elsewhere with a promise to deliver the photos within 10 minutes--- three snaps for just Rs.15 or Rs. 20.
 
Jhatpat (instant) — can there be an epithet more befitting to the open-air, makeshift studios, with just a stool and an antiquated pedestal camera?
 
Owners of these Jhatpat studios say they earn anything between Rs.50 and Rs.75 per day or even more depending upon the season.
 
Low costs and easy approachability are the two major factors, which have made these Jhatpat studios thrive even in the contemporary times of coloured polaroid photographs.
 
“The quality of the photographs is in no way inferior, and are sometimes even better than their sophisticated express counter parts,” says Lalit Kumar, who owns a number of these studios.
 
“Moreover polaroid facility is only a status symbol for studio owners and cannot be described as a success either in terms of quality or popularity”, says Satish Chabra, another Jhatpat photographer.
 
Money is not precious for the customers here but time is. “ We happen to be literally at the doorstep during a crisis, say, students seeking admission, a widow completing her pension papers or even someone trying to get a driving license,” says Sudhir Kumar.
 
Antique equipment, fondly called the ‘minute or pinhole camera’, that produces these photos in minutes, easily catches one’s attention.
 
A photographer working on this contraption looks more like a magician about to exhibit his black art. The sensitive camera, however, works only in sunlight and stalls when put to work in the arc light of the studio.
 
In sunlight too, exposure is the key factor, ranging from a few seconds to even two or three minutes on a cloudy day, when light is not adequate.
 
Through this camera the image is taken directly on to the bromide paper instead of a film. It is then developed within minutes with the help of a developer.
 
The results may not be too good but no one complains as long as one’s face is recognizable.
 
There exits among the studio owners a feeling of fraternity. There is no cutthroat competition among these ‘jhatpat’ studios as they work in unity and do not attempt to lure away customers from a neighbour, the photographers say.
 
“When we first came here some middlemen tried to play dirty games and fix commissions to bring customers to us,” says Onkar, “but we kept them at bay by posing a united front.”
 
Yes, their business has slowed down to a great extent by the invasion of big studio owners, especially the polaroid facility.
 
But this does not make much impact on us because ours is a specialized job for specialized people, points out Onkar.
 
Setting up shops on the footpath, these ‘Jhatpat’ studios are often under pressure from municipal corporation employees.
 
“But somehow we manage because we cannot afford to leave this place”, says one of the owners.
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