Tourist Photographers in the Age of the Selfie
Are smart phones edging tourist photographers out of business?
In this age of smart phones, spotting professional photographers hanging around tourist spots is a bit weird. Stats often tell you how India is amongst the fastest growing smart phone markets and anywhere popular you go, you see people putting those phones to use and taking pictures of themselves. In Mumbai - Marine Drive, Chowpatty, malls, the Gateway of India - all places of popular interest will confirm this picture taking trend.
The Gateway curiously though is still thronging with “professional photographers”. Ranjit Kumar Das, one such photographer puts the number at roughly 400, which makes the competition pretty intense. In the limited area of the Gateway, now cordoned off since the attacks of 26/11, some 400 odd photographers make their living by taking pictures of tourists.
A picture is priced at Rs 30 and if anyone is caught selling one for more or less they have to pay a fine of Rs 1,200, photographer Jitendra Tiwari tells us.
Travails of the Trade
Most of the photographers outside of the cordoned off area are the ones who have been in the business for 15 years or more. The ones closer to the Gateway are the younger ones with more hustle in them, Das says. He has been working in the area since the 90s. He says post 26/11 all the small businesses around the Gateway were shut down and as a result, those people took to being tourist photographers leading to this burgeoning in numbers from about 65 to 400.
26/11 spawned a different economy in the Gateway area. So even as smart phones edge away more traditional forms of picture taking, more and more people have turned to this profession.
There is no system in place to limit the number of people who can take to this trade yet. But a new union has recently been formed, and the photographers we spoke to are waiting to get union cards, so at least their numbers are limited, down to the official figure of 210.
Caught in a Time Warp?
Speaking to them about this explosion of smart phones, we get mixed reviews. While most agree that smart phones have set them back, few others say business is still booming.
The bulk of them went the DSLR way only in 2007 and acquired printers so they could hand out the pictures right away, as opposed to earlier when they had to send the pictures by post!
Dwijendra Singh, one of the happier photographers we meet disagrees that phones have affected their business. He says with phones people have begun to understand what good photographs are. He takes an average of 50 photographs per day which puts his daily earnings at Rs 1500, a sum he is happy with. Talking about his experiences as a photographer for the last 20 years, he beamingly gushes about Karan Johar having come and spent a day there taking pictures.
There is a certain old world charm and nostalgia to those in this trade. Finding young men, who do this, is hard. There are a few, but they were reluctant to talk. It’s largely a trade owned by old hands and is possibly bound to go with them.
These photographers are so much a part of the experience of the Gateway, one almost doesn’t notice them, merging into the melee that throngs this most popular of Mumbai’s tourist destinations. People spot the camera if anything, not the man behind it. Yet, for many they record memories of happier times, of journeys taken with loved ones. Unlike the hawkers and sellers of trinkets at tourist destinations, they relate on a more intimate level.
As Susan Sontag said, “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
Watch the photographers at the Gateway talk about the changes they have seen and other struggles of their business below:
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