This collection of black and white photographs come from the archive of a small commercial studio located in Chamba’s Chowgan bazaar. The photo studio was founded by Sohan Lal who in 1905 was appointed official State photographer by the Chamba Raja. Having learned photography and developing techniques in Karachi, Sohan Lal was one of many Indian photographers who sought the patronage of princely courts and took photographs of maharajas and nawabs of Punjab and the hill states to the north. But it is the photos of the ordinary folk of the town that I like best – some in dupattas, salwar kameez, turbans and elaborately stitched long coats, others in modern suits, nurses’ uniforms and athletic kit; bare feet appearing alongside polished leather shoes; the wrist watches, oiled-hair, nose-rings and sleeping dogs.
The people in these family groups look immediately familiar yet completely of another time. Characters stand out – the handsome couple in picture 8 and their slightly comical counterparts in picture 28; the twin boys wearing white trousers either side of their mother who sits holding two potted plants on her lap. On the far right of the group of town belles in traditional dress and plaited hair there is a girl in the casual slacks, black hat and cravat (picture 11). Where are these families now? Most likely their children and grandchildren still live in Chamba – it’s that kind of place.
Sohan Lal’s son Sham Sundar inherited the photo studio – that’s him in picture 13 with his wife, three daughters and a boy. This boy I think is Tutu who took over the running of Karachi House until falling demand led him to turn the studio into a toy store. Tutu died a few years back but the store is still there and an ageing sign hangs above the door: “KARACHI HOUSE: SHAM SUNDAR & SON, PHOTOGRAPHERS AND DEALERS”