In 1855, the camera officially reached India, but it was picked up as a career or even as an artform much later.
When we talk about the pre-modern photography, names like Raja Deen Dayal who was appointed as a court photographer to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Man Ray and Homai Vyarawalla come to mind.
In the 1960s, commercialization of photographs began to gain momentum with photographers like Ragu Rai, the father of modern photography, and Raghubir Singh coming into picture.
But it was still difficult to access equipment for color photography in India. Film stock and transparencies were not available, and it was often very expensive.
However, later in the 1970s, Raghubir Singh pioneered the use of color film to capture scenes from his homeland India.
Amid all the developments when photography was still considered an art form, a man named Damodar Kamat left his home in Belgaum and set up Kamat Foto Flash in 1945 at Famous Studios.
Kamat has photographed several celebrities like Raj Kapoor to Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Rajshri Productions, Nargis, Dharmendra, Meena Kumari , Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi.
Kamat was born in a family of engineers in Belgaum on 27 November 1923. Their primary occupation is farming and were also indulged in other sectors like manufacturing brass utensils, jewellery and wood products.
However, Damodar Kamat was inclined towards arts from his childhood and was fascinated by the camera. At the age of 17, he left the city and moved to Kolhapur, a hub of photography then. There he met Shantaram Samant, an ace photographer of his time and began his journey.
Kamat faced several hardships there, he had to arrange tea, be a delivery boy of chemicals for developing the negative and lived in the studio to be promoted as a painter for board signs.
Four years later, he moved to the maxim city in 1940 to establish a career in film photography. He worked with Bombay Talkies studio and in 1945, he started his own company, Kamat Foto Flash.
In that era, photographers were responsible for furnishing an album composed of the sets, artists, costumes etc which would be shown to the financiers to justify costs and get sanctions for more funds. Also, publishing movie stills in magazines was the only way to get the audience excited.
It is said that film stills had to be taken with the minimum interference to the film in production.
Kamat was very particular about his process, he knew exactly what needs to be done to get that one perfect shot, as unlike today where 100 pictures are clicked and then the best ones are chosen, in those days each still cost a lot of money.
He would quietly take pictures of the actors, without coming in the way of any crew members and disturbing the production. The still camera was kept at the same height and angle as the movie camera. Meena Kumari had a wide jaw so he would click from top angles. Impressed by his skills, Madhubala had gifted Kamat a Rolleiflex camera.
Also, for Guru Dutt’s movie Pyasa (1957), Kamat managed to create an illusion of a library in his studio. Also, photo of actress, Padmini during Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai film, gained him a lot of respect in the movie industry. In the picture taken from a top angle, Padmini was still while the skirt was in motion.
Damodar also used his studio to click portraits of upcoming actors as well. Later, Kamat Foto Flash recorded muhurats and private events hosted by filmmakers.
In 1967, Damodar Kamat succumbed to a heart attack on his 44th birthday. As his son Vidyadhar was 13 at that time, it took him a while to take up the management of the studio. However, in 1973, Vidhyadar took over and today Damodar Kamat’s grandchildren, Neha and Abhishek have also joined.
Till today, the Kamat family preserves the negatives and multiple pictures of a movie are neatly kept on butter paper in a box, these boxes are changed every two or three years.