Established in central Kolkata’s Esplanade area in 1840 by famous British photographers William Howard, Samuel Bourne and Charles Shepherd, the studio was regarded as the oldest running photographic studio in the world.

The Bourne and Shepherd studio in Kolkata
The Bourne and Shepherd studio in Kolkata © Subham Dutta - The four-storied Gothic structure stands almost unnoticed next to the more glamorous Metropolitan studio building on S N Banerjee Road in Kolkata. Bourne & Shepherd, which was one of the oldest surviving photographic studios in the world, is used to being given short shrift by history.On Thursday, when it downed its shutters after giving Kolkata and the country 176 years of service, there was no one around to bid goodbye.“Bourne & Shepherd was once an important landmark of the city. You would see an assortment of imported vehicles parked outside the building through the 1940s to the 1980s,” said P Sarkar of Metropolitan Photo studio, which is right next door.At its peak, Bourne & Shepherd was the most successful commercial firm in 19th- and early 20th-century India, with agencies all over India and outlets in London and Paris, including a mail order service. Some of its photographs hang from the Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Portraits in London, the Cambridge University library.“It is not feasible for us to run it anymore. A heritage establishment like this needs a lot of time and devotion. Due to my advanced age, it’s no longer possible for me to carry on,” said Jayant Gandhi, the owner of the studio.The building was ravaged in a fire 25 years ago and has been allowed to disintegrate over the years. “We lost everything in that fire. We had the finest collection of photographs, all went up in smoke,” said Prem Shankar Prasad, 50, who has been working in the studio for more than 30 years.

One of the world’s oldest running photo studios ‘Bourne and Shepherd’ here has closed shop after 176 years of rich legacy, finally succumbing to the advent of digital technology.

Established in central Kolkata’s Esplanade area in 1840 by famous British photographers William Howard, Samuel Bourne and Charles Shepherd, the studio was regarded as the oldest running photographic studio in the world.

“We closed it on Thursday. Things are not the same anymore. Technology has changed and I have grown old. How will I run it,” the studio’s owner Jayant Gandhi said.

Now in his seventies, Gandhi said he would try his best to preserve the studio archives equipment and the old camera used by the legendary photographers.

A landmark in heritage map of the Raj-era Kolkata, the four-storeyed Gothic structure which housed the studio now wears a deserted look, but was once a hotbed of activities with visitors like Oscar winning film director Satyajit Ray and nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

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Prem Shankar Prasad, who left the studio in March after working there for three decades, said business was very poor and it was tough to run it financially for the owners. “How can you expect that a studio can operate in this generation where everyone is clicking photos from their mobiles and digital cameras? People don’t even want to take a print out of it and they just post it on Facebook,” said another ex-employee of the studio.

The decay in the heritage institution had, however, started to set in much before the advent of digital technology. A fire in 1991 not only broke the studio financially, but also destroyed pieces of history stored in the building in the form of negatives.