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At 92, ‘ace photographer of yore’ K V Subba Rao rewinds in a flash

5 min read

Mysuru: At the age of 92, it’s common to see the people fragile and rickety, barely opening their mouth to speak and blabber on a lengthy note.

Here is a nonagenarian, who outmatches his peers, when it comes to his ability to speak for hours and go down memory lane, recollecting several incidents of his life in a flash. 

K V Subba Rao was a professional photographer for close to five decades till he called it quits. The old timers may be aware of Photo Flash, the studio established in 1950 on Dhanvantri road. To be precise the ground floor of Gayatri Bhavan Hotel, where the studio space is now occupied by a bakery.

When Mysoorunews.com called on Rao at his house at CFTRI layout near Amrita College on a Sunday, he greeted along with his family members. 

For three hours, it was Rao who occupied the scene, albeit with interruptions from this reporter, who didn’t take much time to understand, how intriguing it will be, given Rao’s tryst with photography that took him to personalities like the 25th and last Maharaja of Mysuru Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, engineering genius Sir M Visvesvaraya, Nobel prize winner scientist C V Raman, poet laureate Kuvempu, Jnanpith awardee litterateur Shivaram Karanth and the list goes on.

A room in the corner of second floor of the house, offers a peek into the passionate photographer in Rao, whose collection of cameras of yore, manual to advanced, will surely grab the eyeballs of an inquisitive lot. Moreover, Rao has etched in his memory, every minute details of the equipment, some arranged in order and some kept inside the almirah, which he explains in a jiffy.

Mention must be made of processers developed by Rao on his own, which are of antique significance now, considering the rarity of the equipment. 

For record, Rao is the youngest surviving among nine brothers. It was his elder brother late K V Achyutha Rao, a scientific photographer at CFTRI, Mysuru, who initiated him to photography, when he was looking for a job. That was how Photo Flash studio was opened in the year 1950, with a rent of Rs 52. When Rao shut the studio for permanent after several decades, he was paying Rs 2,500 rent. But, money still had value, cautions Rao. 

Rao who was in the prime of his youth had the rare privilege of witnessing Dasara festival with Wadiyars the erstwhile rulers of Mysuru leading the annual celebration, from close quarters, albeit with restrictions aplenty then also. He has the credit of covering Dasara for 30 years.

Says Rao, with quite a big sized black and white photo of then Maharaja Jayachamaraja  Wadiyar, in royal attire, on horse back, in his hand.

“This photo is rare, as the Maharaja is seen saluting during Torchlight Parade that marks the culmination of Dasara, at Bannimantap ground. For that, I had to endure a risk, the pain of which which remained with me for sometime”, said Rao with a chuckle.

Not just that, Rao had shot the photos of sixth year birthday celebration of princess Gayatri Devi the eldest daughter of Jayachamaraja Wadiyar. Gayatri Devi was taken in a procession in silver chariot within the Palace Fort, says Rao.

He picks another photo, a portrait of Sir M Visvesvaraya. It was shot at Government House, when Visvesvaraya had come down to Mysuru to inaugurate the statue of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar (at the Circle by same name known as K R Circle).

“I requested Visvesvaraya for a photo and the latter who was a noble personality, gave an appointment to come at a particular time next day. It was an interesting episode not just because of being opportune to click Visvesvaraya’s photo, but for the discipline he followed even at the age of 92”, reminisces Rao, in awe of Sir M V.

Likewise Rao has captured several historical moments like Jayachamaraja Wadiyar with Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Babu Rajendra Prasad and Rajaji (C Rajagopalacharya), besides Sardar Vallababai Patel, S Radhakrishnan, Acharya Kripalani, Jayaprakash Narayan to name a few.

All these and many more prized moments captured in Rao’s lens, made him a prominent lensman, who was not just sought after locally, but globally too.

For years, Rao was covering assignments for USIS (US Information Services) and has the pride of covering the visits of foreign dignitaries to Kodagu and other places.

He was also contributing photos to Deccan Herald, Madras Mail, The Hindu, Prajamatha, Chitragupta and Taranga.

So also he was duly covering assignments for our own Agriculture department. From ploughing to harvesting, he had captured all the activities at Naganahalli Agriculture Research Station in Mysuru, which were exhibited at World Agricultural Fair in New Delhi.

For two years, Rao also captured Khedda operation ( a method used to catch wild elephants), that ceases to exist. Also, 

The genius in photography Rao got his due when none other than renowned photographer T S Sathyan wrote about him in ‘The Sunday Observer’ in 1996. Sathyan was a friend of Achyutha Rao, but also had a sibling feeling towards Subbarao whom he fondly addressed as ‘Subbanni’.

Not to forget, writer Poornachandra Tejasvi was also a regular to Subbarao’s studio. Tejasvi had even once lauded Rao for possessing enormous talent, recalls Rao with a tinge of pride.

As Mysoorunews.com went on to lend curious ears to the carefully picked lines from Rao’s treasure trove of memory, it was already two hours and the latter was unwilling to call it off.

For, that is the impeccable talent of an unblemished photographer like Rao, whose tryst with lens isn’t a story cut for a day. Name a personality of yore, Rao can pat speak about them.

To cite an example of Rao’s sprightly personality, even when walking almost close to the main door to take a leave from him, he pointed towards a ‘Posograph Camera’ in the corner.

Again, it’s a ‘Made by Rao’, if one succinctly understands the 20-line information printed and pasted on the top.

Rao may have quit photography, but he quickly adds how he took interest in painting thereafter and shows an artefact that adorns the wall of the verandah that welcomes the visitors.

Salute to the genius like Rao who still stand testimony to the bygone era, which laid a firm foundation for Mysuru that is favourite of all.

Says Rao humbly: “I have had it all and I am truly blessed for that”. 

– Team Mysoorunews 

Mysooru News

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