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Shashikant Mayekar, 75

Tinted memories

Author: admin

Paintbrush in hand, this hand-tinter revives old and cherished memories by restoring ageing photos and portraits for sentimental customers

Shashikant Mayekar sits by a window, the late afternoon sun highlighting brushstrokes he’s making on an easel. With short, sharp movements, Mayekar’s fingers darken the lines on a weathered face that appears to gaze at the street outside.

Mayekar is not a ‘painter’ in the conventional sense; he restores ageing photographs by a process called hand-tinting, using paints and a paintbrush. He also fixes old paintings of portraits, and sometimes even creates new portraits.

The resident photo restorer at Indian Art Studio at Kalbadevi in Mumbai, Mayekar has been reviving faded memories for clients for 59 years. In fact, he is the sole reason the studio still restores old photographs and portraits for customers.

“If they want it enlarged, the studio takes care of it and then I begin my process. After analysing the original, I select the colours I want to use. Sometimes, I use imported colours to get the right hue. I use brushes of various thicknesses too. I begin with a light coat and then take it from there,” reveals Mayekar. “Simple jobs can take a day or two but the tricky ones can take up to eight or 10 days, and sometimes even two weeks.” He cheekily adds, “It also depends on my mood.”

Mayekar is self-taught. He learnt to hand-tint by working in his brother’s studio in Dadar. To make ends meet, he had an administrative job in an advocate’s firm and was only a part-time artist. After work, he would arrive at Indian Art Studio at 5 o’clock, and then indulge his passion for his craft.

Even with the advent of digital restoration software, people still choose to use Mayekar’s services to get their photographs restored. “Many are using computers to do this nowadays but hand-tinting always has a more vintage appearance,” he points out.

Most restoration requests involve photographs of sentimental value, usually of a father or mother. “The original photograph is mandatory. Whatever the customer wants, however beautiful, small or big they want it, however spoilt the photos have become, I make the end result proportionately beautiful. I usually restore the photo I am working on to the state of the original photo that the customer has—but I make it first class!” Mayekar proudly remarks.

Some requests put his skills to the test. “Many customers want a family member’s grand portrait as a keepsake and sometimes bring in a young grandfather wearing a baniyan and want him painted with a Jodhpuri suit or a blazer, shirt and tie,” he explains.

As if that weren’t challenging enough, Mayekar has received some seemingly impossible requests. Customers would bring in photos of deceased family members and want him to produce an image of the relative, alive, with open eyes and garlands removed. “They want a portrait of their loved one ‘alive’, because it is the last or only image they have in their possession,” he shares. He says there have even been occasions where he has been presented with an image of a person’s head in one photo and their body in another, and has had to combine them seamlessly using his oil painting skills!

Mayekar admits that it is not a lucrative profession. It is certainly not for the impatient. As he sits in front of a worn-out easel and works on a portrait created from an analogue device, it is apparent that he has put in years of hard work into building his hobby into a skill. He says with a laugh, “I don’t do it for the money,” and thoughtfully adds, “I must have worked on around 2,000 photos to date.”

Mayekar’s son, a software engineer in the US, has been urging him to come overseas. But something he cannot explain keeps the artist rooted to his paint and easel. He cannot leave, at least, “not until I finish 100 years”.

—Anisha Samuel

Photo: Natasha Rego
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
October 2018