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History through lenses of vintage cameras

Aditya Arya is the perfect picture of photographic passion when he talks about the evolution of cameras and their mechanism. After all, he is not just a well-known lensman but also the creator and curator of a museum on vintage cameras. Manoj Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: Jun 02, 2013, 00:24 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times

Aditya Arya is the perfect picture of photographic passion when he talks about the evolution of cameras and their mechanism. After all, he is not just a well-known lensman but also the creator and curator of a museum on vintage cameras.

The museum, one-of-its-kind in the country, came up in the basement of Arya’s sprawling house in Gurgaon two years back and boasts 400 vintage cameras, some dating back to the 1880s.

In fact, not just cameras, the museum also has on display - neatly arranged in wooden glass shelves and cabinets - a lot of photographic equipment and material: earliest flash bulbs, photographic films, lenses, enlargers, light meters, advertisement of Kodak cameras dating back to 1880s. The museum, a sort of mecca for photographers and photography students, represents various stages of the evolution photography since its invention.

Arya, who has been collecting cameras since he was in college, says he decided to start a museum with a view of introducing the digital generation to the history of analogue cameras and their evolution over the last 100 years. “Photography is the only art form where art and craft is deeply connected; the art keeps changing as technology keeps changing. So, it very essential for the new generation of amateur and professional photographers to understand the evolution of photographic technology and process over the years,” the soft-spoken Arya explained as he went about elaborating the historical significance and mechanism of various cameras on display in the well-lit, air-conditioned museum.

The exhibits in the museum includes some of the most iconic studio, field, and portable cameras manufactured by companies such as Eastman Kodak, Leica, Ansco, Zeiss IKon, Folmer, Graflex, Gevaert and Thornton Picard between 1880 to 1990. Most cameras are displayed with captions identifying them, but there are a few that are yet to be labeled.

Kodak Pentuary Graphics Studio Camera of 1890 is the costliest. Its market cost is anything between Rs 45-50 lakh. Beside that, some models of vintage Leica go for anything between R20-25 lakh.

One of the oldest cameras in the museum is 4-feet high Kodak Century Studio Camera, dating back to 1890s. “I got this rare classic from a junk seller in Delhi,” says Arya. Besides, there is Speed Graphic camera from 1930s, the most famous press camera around the world till the 1950s. Another camera on display is called Raja, from the 1950s which was interestingly sold in the US and made in Delhi. “This camera was produced by one Sardool Singh in Bhogal in Delhi. His hand-crafted cameras, a copy of Deardoff camera, were very popular in the US,” says 53- year old Arya, showing a Raja camera which was in pristine condition.

The smallest camera in the museum is a Minox, which was used in the Watergate scandal. Besides, there is a camera produced by the Nazis, wearing Nazi insignia. Among other interesting exhibits in the museum are stereoscopic cameras and photographs, including one of the Delhi Durbar of 1911. They are black­-and-white 3D prints that can be viewed with stereoscopes, also on display at the museum.

“I have collected cameras from various countries such as Japan, Switzerland, Germany, America, England and France. A vintage camera generally cost me anything between R50 to $500. Since the museum is self-financed, I cannot afford anything costlier,” says Arya, adding, “Some of the cameras in the museums have been donated to me by photographers such as Pradeep Dasgupta, Dinesh Khanna, etc. Many people just call and write to me saying that they want donate their old cameras.”

The museum also has some very interesting Kodak’s print advertisements dating back to the 1870s. One such advertisement from the brand in 1888 reads: “We press the button, you do the rest”.

The white walls of the museum are adorned with the black and white pictures of late photo journalist Kulwant Roy, Arya’s uncle and one of the few who covered many political events from 1930s to 1960s. There are pictures of the country’s freedom struggle, and many other post Independence milestones, including signing of the Constitution. In fact, Roy’s prints and negatives remained packed in a steel trunks for twenty years before Arya, who inherited them, decided to catalogue them. “The museum also has many cameras left behind by him,” Arya said.

Arya has spent hours researching the history of cameras for the purpose of nomenclature, captions and cataloguing.

“Thankfully, now I get photography students and interns who help with the process”.

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