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Hundred years of photography in Mussoorie

| | Mussoorie | in Dehradun

There are a large number of tourists in the hill town these days. And ‘Jhoolaghar’, the heart of the town, as usual, is drawing the crowds. Several photographers who have shops here make trips to Mussoorie especially for the tourists and have been doing so for the past many decades.

One can see girls and women dressed in traditional Garhwali, Kumaoni and  Kashmiri attire, provided by these shops, all set to pose before the cameras. Men love to dress up in the traditional Jaunsari attire. However,  most of these visitors are not aware of the great tradition of photography that began many, many years ago in this hill town of northern India.

The Queen of Hills has always been home those who 'write with light'. Foremost amongst them is Samuel Bourne who in Photographic Journey in the Himalayas (1863) included three dozen pictures of these hills.

This twenty-nine year old bank clerk left a vivid record of the station in the days of its infancy. Close behind him, almost snapping at his heels was Thomas Alfred Rust with landscapes from the 1865. Later his son, Julian Rust recorded  images of the 'Gay 1920s' with his camera.

In their wake came the Kinsey Brothers, Doon Studio, Mela Ram & Sons, Bhanu Studio, Hari Saran, Bora's Studio  and the least glamorous of them all, Glamour Studio.

When the ropeway was installed upto the Gun Hill from Jhoolaghar on the Mall Road, forty shops and more , of photowallas, soon came up.

For years, they have all been  dressing eager honeymooners in outlandish hill dresses or turning them into Chambal dacoits, a la Gabbar Singh from the block-buster Bollywood film Sholay - complete with bandolier and gun!.

Post partition, Thukral Studio in London House near Picture Palace was the Mecca of photographers, both big and small. They made great pictures of school fancy fairs, debates, class groups and sport events. But they kept week-ends for themselves, taking nature pictures around the Upper Chakkar in Landour.

Das Studio near the Rialto Cinema has vanished as has Rajpal Studio, which specialised in sepia-tone portraits at Picture Palace

Well-known  writer and photographer Ganesh Saili ,an old resident of Mussoorie, says the story of his collection of old pictures of Landour and Mussoorie dates back to the 1970s.  He discovered  a treasure at the storeroom of  the Municipal committee. From here, he was able to rescue from certain oblivion, the last few plates of T.A.Rust, the celebrated photographer of the 1880s. "And then, friends, acquaintances, collectors and photographers from all over the world sent in old pictures of our little Himalayan hill station as it used to be in the 19th century", says Saili.

Yet those early days of photography were hazardous...at least, according to the Mussoorie Miscellany, published in the 1920s.It tells us that a certain Captain Charles Henry Deane Spread, of the Invalid Establishment, Landour, was struck by lightning and killed at Balahissar on September 3rd, 1879 while he  was preparing to develop some photographic plates and in a heavy shower was collecting rainwater for the process .

In those early days of photography, Rust took to the new technology like a fish to water. His images of the rich and famous brought him instant recognition, fame and soon he was a man of considerable means.

Later on, his son, Julian Rust, inherited the studio on Camel's Back Road .He was a flourishing photographer, who displayed his works by the roadside.He had a tiff with the City fathers about the location of his stall. One day, among his exhibits there appeared the beautifully executed likeness of the Chairman of the local Board, mounted on an ass. It was not a genuine photograph but just a clever piece of artistry, and fireworks followed. Later, Julian sold off the family business and went off to South Africa with his beautiful Irish wife, Elizabeth Anne Nelligan.

Images of Landour and Mussoorie in the old photos speak louder than words.  They tell their own story of a laidback lifestyle when the Queen of Hills had not yet been ravaged by developers. The memsahib in a rickshaw, the virgin hillsides untouched by later-day settlers, the Mall, less peopled than it is today. They bring alive the mirth and gaiety, the laughter and the chatter, the life of the people long gone to rest.

"To me they remain quintessential nostalgia -- a visual proof of a hundred years of the camera in Mussoorie,remarks Saili. 




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