For many years now, one studio is Darjeeling has been at the forefront of mountain photography in the region. Durga Das Pradhan, who is now in his eighties and is still active in running the studio spoke to me in Darjeeling a few months ago.
From large format film cameras to 35 mm single lens reflex models to digital cameras and D-SLRs and now phone cameras, Das Studio has seen them all.
When I was a boy in Darjeeling, a daily visit to Das Studio was a must. I would stand before the photographs of the great mountains and look in awe at those wonderful pictures. Many were to places I have never been to like Everest Base Camp, Kala Pattar, Poon Hill, neighbouring Sandakphu and Phalut, Dzongri and many more. And as I looked I imagined that I would be there one day!
The postcard section was a great attraction and over the years I built up an album of Das Studio postcards. I have that green album even today - dog eared but treasured.
Durga Das Pradhan was and still is a wealth of information on everything photographic. While we were chatting this March, he suddenly mentioned some huge Ansel Adams prints which he had seen in the USA. " For tonal quality you can't beat large format film" he said " hopefully film is making a comeback." In his heart Durga Das is still a "film man".
Ratna Das Pradhan, son of Durga who now lives in Australia writes this about Das Studio on his web site www.ratnapradhan.com :
"Our firm, Das Studio of Darjeeling, was established by my grandfather Thakur Das in 1927 at Mount Pleasant Road, a site near the present day bazaar. When the opportunity presented itself, he expanded his business and moved into shops in Commercial Row (Nehru Road). In 1949 he scraped together a down payment to purchase the premises that housed Whiteaway Laidlaw, a haberdashery.
He made the move to 15 Nehru Road in 1950. The history of the the family business is an interesting one not only to us family members, but also for the long time permanent residents of the town and the surrounding Tea Plantations.
Darjeeling being a tourist destination and an escape for many plains dwellers during the scorching summer months meant many a visitor came to Darjeeling regularly during the hot Indian summer.
Das Studio was always a familiar meeting place as the visitors strolled along Nehru Road to Chowrasta and a walk along the Mall to savour the cool Himalayan evenings. In a manner of speaking, the story of Das Studio has been somewhat linked with social history of Darjeeling, in that the business provided a popular social hub for visitors as well as the locals."
Sadly given the present situation of Darjeeling that is all changed.
Some photographs from the Das Studio archives are below:
|Setting up a plate camera near Tonglu|
Burdwan Palace and Darjeeling town 1950s
|Das Studio in the 1940s|
For more information on the history of Darjeeling and this historic studio visit https://www.facebook.com/DasStudio.Darjeeling?fref=ts