Amid all the antique collections, modern art paintings and neatly framed pictures of flowers and fruits that adorn urban homes these days, one piece of antiquity that is increasingly missing from the living rooms is the giant family portrait.
Photo studio owners in the city lament that hardly any client comes to their studios neatly clothed in suits and saris to take a family portrait and place an order for a giant size 18 * 28 inch photograph. “It’s just vanished from the photography business,” says Balaji V, a photo studio owner from Royapettah who has been in the business since the early 1990s.
It’s not just the portrait photos that have gone missing from studios. Print orders for even 4 by 6 inch family vacation photo albums or family occasions such as a birthday party or a housewarming celebration have also dwindled to such an extent that running a photo studio is becoming increasingly difficult.
“Most people take photographs using their digital cameras or mobile phones and share it with friends on social networking sites,” says Sebastin Fernandez (50), a second generation photo studio owner from Villivakkam.
Sebastin's family has been in the photo studio business for the last several decades and he is a second generation studio owner. His father Franco Fernandez started Jackulin Studios at Ayanavaram way back in the 1960s and had a thriving business for several decades. “I have been working in my father’s studio since the age of 15 and have now moved our shop to Kolathur just a few years ago as it was increasingly difficult to pay rents for a studio at Ayanavaram,” Sebastin says.
According to rough estimates given by Sebastin and other photo studio owners, the business of printing of photographs has declined by atleast 75% over the last few years alone. “Now, we get orders only for photographing commercial events or important functions. Even then, not many people request for a photo album any more,” Sebastin says.
Recently, a major photo lab in the city ran a promotional offer of printing 100 photos free of cost for a limited number of customers who came with a coupon that they had distributed. “It’s hard to be believe but only a handful of people reverted to us with the coupons to use the free prints offer for the digital photos that they had shot,” says the owner of the lab.
Barring a few exceptions, the only request for physical print request that comes to photo studios these days is that of a passport size photograph. “Since the government still demands passport size photos for taking passports, drivers’ licenses etc. we still get those requests. Even then, customers usually take pictures on their mobile phones and just want us to print it out on paper cut to the required size,” says Sebastin.
As a pointer to the changing trend, most professional photographers in the city no longer call their office as a studio. “It’s called a lab (laboratory) as that is all we do. We correct the colour, copy the contents to a CD or just email the pictures,” says Balaji. “In a few years from now, even that might no longer be needed,” he says.