The Legacy of Turab Studios in Commercial Photography
By Menin Rodrigues
KARACHI: September 3, 2015 – Mohammad Turab was eons ahead of time when he
forecasted the photographic needs of industrial and commercial Pakistan, including corporations and advertising agencies. TURAB STUDIOS was established in 1948 by Turab, an oil-and- canvas artist, introducing pioneering photographic work when photography outlets in the city were limited to doing films retakes, family portraits and special occasions. Turab did it differently and started capturing ‘life’ in all its essence, splendour and transforming ‘lifeless’ products into lively objects of desire. He introduced handmade artworks, pen and ink, pencil sketches, spray-guns, halftones and linework of the highest quality. The outcome captured the imagination of visualizers and the country’s fledgling advertising space took on a new turn – thanks to Turab, creative photography was making its mark. Writes the late Anwar H. Chowdhury, his son-in-law in his memoir tracing the early years of Turab when he moved with his family from Patna, Behar to Bombay in 1943, “His lounge, the largest room in the flat, doubled as his studio where he seemed permanently engaged with a team of some 25 artists, painters, and others. There he was churning out cinema decorations, banners, show cards, posters, costumes, and hoardings etc., as well as designing and building sets for film and theatrical productions. On top of all that he undertook still-photography.” “When he moved in 1943 to Bombay, the commercial capital of India, he was looking for greener pastures that would also test his capabilities, which were not available to him in the provincial capital of Bihar. In fact, his arrival in Bombay was perfectly timed, because it was the start of the golden age of Bollywood.”
As Pakistan’s advertising gurus focused on the design, sketches and copywriting requirements of a campaign, the demand to take photographs of sites, structures, factories, models, and products grew; and when that happened, the Turab Studios was the Lone Ranger on the scene. They were well-equipped with a mix of top-end cameras, an assortment of lighting apparatus and an extra-ordinary spacious studio (on Elphinstone Street, Saddar) that could accommodate large, very large products, such as machinery, bed and drawing room furniture, and other fixtures, to be captured by the magic of cameras like the Linof Super, Hasselblad and Mamiya. The 1960s and 1970s saw the Turab Studios a place to be, agencies made a beeline to get a slot of their precious time and booked their photography requirements months in advance. The iconic exhibitions of the 1960s, such as the one held on the open grounds on the outskirts of Bunder Road, ultimately to be called ‘Numaish’ and the Decorama on the Polo grounds were occasions where the Turab Studios made a tremendous impact.
Turab’s sons Farooq and Feroze took on the mantle to continue the legacy of their illustrious father and did a splendid job of retaining the iconic work associated with Turab Studios. While Farooq was a mastermind behind the camera, building a network of clients and friends, his brother Feroze was the backend support in operational and management affairs. They were the best-known photography kings in the advertising industry.
Throughout Pakistan, the Turabs were called for industrial, commercial, and aerial photographic requirements of large multi-national and state organizations. In the 1950s, the Turabs also played a significant role in developing the logos of Pakistan Railways and Karachi Port Trust. A full- fledged framing section with a choice of hand-made frames in a variety of design and colors, added value and soon, the outlet was the talk-of-the-town.
Recalling the advent of advertising agencies and the profession itself, Chowdhury writes, “The infant state of Pakistan, backwater of the former British Indian Empire, had to nurture
almost every economic activity from an embryonic stage. When M. Turab set up Turab
Studios in Saddar in 1947 to provide his services, Pakistan’s advertising industry was
non-existent; not until the 1950s it started on a reasonably serious scale.”
When Queen Elizabeth visited Pakistan in 1961 and several VIP events of President Ayub Khan, the Turab Studios team was called upon to cover the functions.
“Turab Studios, in the heart of Karachi, was much more than its owner’s place of work.
It was a shrine to his labour and accomplishment, the sum of his life. A home from
home, where M. Turab had spent many a night, either painting away feverishly or too
late to go home.”
TURAB STUDIOS is no more, the brothers and their families have moved on but the endearing legacy of the pioneering work of their father Mohammad Turab, will live forever.