I came to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh following my brother’s advice, as he was doing fine here. I used to do random small businesses around The Gateway of India in Colaba. I have sold tea and even had a Pani-puri stall until the Municipal Corporation confiscated it. My cousin used to click pictures around The Gateway so I had basic knowledge about cameras. I bought a camera and started learning. I have been clicking pictures since 1994. During those times, we used to use film rolls and the prints could not be done until the entire roll had been consumed. We used to tell the customers to wait for approximately 1 hour at the Gateway as we used to consume, develop the film and take prints in that hour. There was a lab behind The Taj Mahal Hotel, where we used to get the prints from. It was a great time for our business as there were no phone cameras and people loved having prints for their albums.
As digital cameras came into action, I started learning camera features and techniques from youtube. It was quite simple. We can find everything there. I believe that if I could manage to learn from youtube, anybody else can. In todays times, things are even much simpler. We deliver prints in just a few minutes as all of us carry portable printers.
Business was adversely affected after the arrival of smartphones but it was still smooth until the pandemic came in this year. We used to click at least 50-70 pictures a day as Gateway used to be so crowded in pre-covid times. Currently we hardly manage 12-15 photos a day. It is hard to survive in this situation. Even the weekends are tough.
We are a union of 300 photographers at this location but due to lockdown, most of them have gone back to their villages.
We went to our village in May-June and returned back only in November as there were no tourists here. Most of the tourist places are still closed. It is only the locals who are visiting nowadays. However, locals do not like clicking pics as there is no novelty in it for them. Thus business is just a trickle of what it used to be.
All the photographers here are waiting for the vaccine and eventually for the public to come back. We understand that there is still fear amongst people and it is better for people to stay in. “Par humara dhandha toh public se hi chalta hai” and we can’t wait for the public to return in large numbers.
Shyam Pyare's story is another one in our series of highlighting the plight of local photographers at tourist locations. Many photographers like Shyam Pyare are struggling to make their ends meet. Do make it a point to visit the local tourist spots wherever you are and support this community. You might just put some food on the plate of an hungry photographer's family.