Mission Delhi – Syed Iqbal Ali, Mohalla Qabristan
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The world is in transition, here at Crescent Photo Studio in Old Delhi’s Mohalla Qabristan. “It is to be rebuilt,” says Syed Iqbal Ali. “This place, my place, will have a new look, a new purpose.”
This afternoon, the photographer is sitting behind his cluttered desk, holding a glass of chai delivered by a neighbouring stall. The studio walls are decked with scores of coloured photos of Old Delhi people he has snapped over the recent years. But where are the older pics? The studio has been here since 1987. Surely there must be an archive? “Oh, the purani reels must be lying buried in some trunk, but some have also been lost with the years.” The voice is shaded with a slight regret.
Looking about his photo studio, Iqbal Ali, 53, observes that “now everyone has a (mobile phone) camera, and people click their own photos, turning photo studios into a thing of the past.” A drycleaner’s son, he had launched his career by enrolling in a photography course in Bal Bhawan. He also interned in a Chandni Chowk photo studio, before setting up his own business. This studio stands on his father’s former establishment—White House Dry Cleaners. It had a flying start. There was a time so madly hectic that Iqbal Ali had to employ two photographers, plus a photo editor.
Looking out through the glass window, towards a damaged staircase across the crowded galli, the cameraman recalls his life with the camera: “I had a Yashica from 1987 to 2000, then I switched to Nikon, and after a few years I migrated to Canon and Sony… still using them.”
The studio’s renovations will begin in the new year. “I will have new walls and new sofas, there will be a wide-screen TV to show sample photos and videos to customers… I will focus on wedding photos and videos, that is where the money is.”
Graciously responding to a request, Iqbal Ali shifts to the studio’s sanctum sanctorum where in the old days his clients used to sit for formal portraits. Flanked by flash lights, the studio photographer poses for The Delhi Walla’s mobile phone camera, the very device because of which “people click their own photos, turning photo studios into a thing of the past.”
[This is the 532nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]