I got married in 1975. That same year I went to Austria. There were a few of us who travelled by road at that time. Eventually, our visas expired after a year. We were expelled and forced to cross over to Yugoslavia. Fortunately, I had some money to travel back. I still wonder what would have happened if I had to stay back.
Back then, settling abroad was not a craze. My friends had asked me not to go abroad, but I just wanted to go at least once. I went and started selling newspaper in Austria. After coming back to India in 1976, I started this photography shop.
I use Arriflex camera. I dropped it and the mirror broke. I will have to go to Jalandhar to get it fixed. My hands became shaky with age. Earlier, I used to make the customer pose in front of the curtain and take the shot with the camera in my hands. These days, I must fix a tripod and use the timer to take the photo.
Back in the days, the photos had to be printed from Jalandhar. A while ago, I bought a printer and I can print them on the spot. The cameras have changed with time and the technique to take photographs have changed too. Photography has evolved to such an extent that our generation could not keep up with it. The new generation is savvier and more updated on the modern photography technique. Nobody appreciates us anymore. Those who come to me for a photograph are either old acquaintances or someone in an urgent need of a photograph.
The market is loaded with young lads who, despite not knowing the technique, wield a camera and call themselves photographers. Earlier, we used film reels to take photos, and the film was expensive, so we had to make sure of a lot of things before taking the photo. Editing a photo was also tedious. Everything had to be corrected with a black lead pencil. Wrinkles, eyebrows, spots, beards, all were touched up with a pencil. First, the negatives were sprayed with a liquid, then they would be touched with the pencil. It was corrected properly before printing. It used to take a week or even a month for the customer to pick up the photos. These days, you can take thousands of photos, and there is nothing to lose. You can ask the customer to choose the best one among those. You can put the photo on a computer and alter it the way you want. The photography has become easier and instantaneous.
My father worked in the armed police. He was a photographer and cinema operator there. He was promoted to the rank of a head constable. He retired from active duty in 1960 and opened a photography shop named Balwindra Studio. I finished my matric in 1963
We are 5 brothers and it became tough to work in the same shop, so we all started our own studios. I have one daughter, I made all the efforts for her education. She is married now and lives in Australia. I visited her a few years ago, I took some pictures there too.
Story and photographs: Gurdeep Dhaliwal
Translation: Jasdeep Singh
Edits: Sangeet Toor