Ketaki Sheth has been a photographer for four decades and only used black and white film until 2014. photography studio (Photoink, 2018) marks the veteran’s extraordinary transition to color using the digital medium.
Mumbai-based Sheth’s work is part of major museums and private collections around the world. Among his other well-known publications are Twinspotting: Photographs of Patel Twins in Britain and India (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2000); and Bombay Mix: street photography (Dewi Lewis Publishing and Sepia International, 2007).
Sheth’s solo exhibitions include ‘On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London (2015); “A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Africans of Indian Descent” at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi (2013); and “Bombay Mix” at the Galerie Emile Zola and at the Fête du Livre, Aix-en-Provence (2008).
Between 2015 and 2018, Sheth, now 65, traveled across India and visited more than 65 photo studios, many of which were in a sorry state of decline. While photo studios in India have been explored and written about extensively, Sheth’s approach to studios has been anything but conventional. She often ignores the strict conventions of making formal portraits of people with inscrutable expressions. Instead, she uses aging studio lights when available, a portable camera, and a 35mm lens to unearth stories of past glory and draw attention to objects and a cast of characters who gracefully submit. in his gaze.
photography studio is as much a story about photography in the age of selfies as it is about contemporary life and attachments. Over the years, Sheth has shown remarkable ease in transitioning seamlessly from posed portraiture to street photography.
“Ketaki Sheth oscillates seamlessly between posed portraiture and street photography.”
The book, designed by Itu Chaudhuri, complements Sheth’s aesthetic sensibility without giving in to humor or pathos in the way the book unfolds. Christopher Pinney’s essay provides the historical and theatrical context of India’s photo studios and Sheth’s fluid interventions in these spaces.
In her essay in the book, Sheth says, “It was at Manori in 2014 that I discovered the indefinable Jagdish Photo Studio wedged between a hardware store and a grain depot on the main strip. I walked into her empty, cramped space and saw a blue plastic stool against a sheer red curtain. It was a calling. I had to intervene. After meeting the manager and arranging a mutually convenient time to work here, I knew I would have no problem finding babysitters in such an intimate and familiar location. I quickly started doing portraits of local residents. As my models poured in, an idea slowly formed. The picturesque studio setting, the light fixtures, the diaphanous old-fashioned backgrounds as well as the confident formality of the subjects gripped me.
“I looked for similar situations elsewhere in India. In the three years that followed, from 2015 to 2018, I found over 65 studios, some adapting to survive, but many on the brink of collapse. My photographs are a residual memory of a once cherished moment, but now rapidly eroding in the age of the smart phone. In my photos, I tried to infuse an atmosphere of a bygone past with a contemporary eye.
To accompany the exhibition, Chemould Prescott Road created a photo studio within their gallery using original backdrops from their project. Visitors are invited to use this studio to take their own photos, assisted by a lighting technician.
Ketaki Sheth will also be available to do commissioned portraits by appointment.
For any request, please send an email to: [email protected] The show is on view until October 20, 2022.
Devika Daulet-Singh is the Director of Photoink, New Delhi.