Walking into Hamilton Photo Studio is like walking back in time. You meet the big industrialists, the Bollywood actors and the evergreen dance troupe from Belgium. It has been 94 years since its inception and the legacy is still thriving. Hamilton Studio is currently being run by photographer Ajita Madhavji, when she took over it in the 1980s from her father, a man she proudly declares is truly the essence of the studio. The studio was initially founded by Sir Victor Sassoon in 1928.
Perched in a quaint lane at Ballard Estate, shadowed by rows of trees, the studio is as iconic and as legendary as the city of Bombay itself. Why do we say this? It’s the stories behind the studio and the photographs. When we sit down to chat with Ajita, we hear of her fond memories, her accidental but destined love for photography and stories of her father. From royalty to maharajas and the generals – they have all been shot here by Ajita’s father. Some of the names include Lord Brabourne, Lord Willingdon, and the Maharajas from Udaipur and Jodhpur.
In fact, we’ve been told that her father, back in the day, shot B.R Ambedkar, the Tatas and other influential industrialists and diplomats as well. The studio space is huge and dates back to 1928. They have a studio inside with an ancient analogue camera (the wooden kind). With a simple and sober background – the cream-coloured curtains make for a very elegant photograph, something Ajita prides herself in. A Hamilton photograph can be spotted from a distance and that is what Hamilton stands for.
In fact, Hamilton is one of the last few studios that still works with hand-tinting. A woman of many talents, she dabbles in photography, archiving, and managing the studio. You can still go in for portraits (start at INR 4,000} and have Ajita produce a beautiful portrait (passport, or life size). Speaking of photos, she has a treasure trove of almost 9 lakh negatives since they started off back in ’28. If you ask us, it reminds us of Jack Johnson’s rainy day lyrics, ‘like a shoebox of photographs with sepia-toned loving’, as Ajita holds it all close to her heart. And if you walk in, trust us, you’ll walk out with a sense of shared memory.