No.23, The Mall, Lahore. Most of us would understand the importance of such a location. Any location, indeed, on this famous city’s main thoroughfare would be considered prestigious.
No. 23, opposite the Lahore High Court and adjacent to the Cathedral, has the same panache, and is named the Masson Narsingdas Building. Since 1930, it has also been the premises of Zaidis Studio.
The genesis of the photographic studio in Lahore lies in the fact that the first generation of the Zaidis, the brothers Syed Wazir Ali Zaidi and Syed Nazir Ali Zaidi, original founders of their first studio in Benaras in 1904, were graduates of the (then) Mayo School of Arts.
Syed Mohammad Ali Zaidi, the second-generation proprietor of the business, continued to invest in the best cameras and lenses at different points, knowing well the importance of keeping up with technology. As is evident, the quality of the earlier Black and White photography, as well as that of later colour photography, remains second to none. Crystalline in appearance, portraits and landscapes alike are superb examples of a meticulous approach and the painstaking craft of portraiture.
From the moment of its inception, the portraiture studio acquired a reputation for excellence, quickly making it one of the two most prominent studios in the city. No doubt, the care and attention lavished on every client, the absolute command over the medium, and commitment to his profession all worked toward the photographer being highly valued in the cosmopolitan milieu that characterised Lahore at that time.
Now primarily a valuable resource for researchers, the archive that resulted over an unbroken period of time, is a visual repository of history and culture, in the truest sense. This is stated by the words of the late Shahid Zaidi himself: “Though the photographs show a lost imperial and aristocratic past, they are significant for a host of reasons for different audiences. For costume enthusiasts the range of high quality dresses is a rich source of inspiration. The social and political historian can study the countenance of personalities from important periods of history.”
The list of clients and subjects whose portraits displayed is truly impressive. It includes Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a young Imran Khan, various royal personages, families, and even celebrities many of whom posed for Mr. Shahid Zaidi, the third-generation photographer, before he passed away in July 2022.
The Zaidi family must be held in the highest respect and honour for the unparalleled contribution they have made to the field of cultural anthropology of such historic times, and there is no doubt that many individuals too, are indebted to them for having assiduously preserved personal and familial memories.
The current exhibition ‘Through The Lens’, is a homage to the Zaidi family in general, and the Late Shahid Zaidi in particular. Avid outdoorsman, pilot, fisherman, and mountain climber, he was the custodian of a few hundred thousand negatives, each a small part of the society and times of the city that was Lahore. He had the foresight to begin digitizing the old format negatives (many on glass slides), by photographing the negatives with a high resolution digital camera. The result of his labours is before you. The digitising process will take a few more years. We await the unfolding of the full story once this massive task is complete.