(Written by Ashna Bhutani)
Photographer Aditya Arya was 15 when his father gifted him his first camera — a Zeiss Ikon. Forty four years later, in July this year, Michael Kaschke, President and CEO of Zeiss, the German pioneer in optical systems and optoelectronics, visited Arya’s upcoming camera museum — Museo Camera in Gurgaon — and commented how it was no less than a marvel. “On August 19, 1839, the first photograph was announced to the world. I hope to inaugurate my museum the same day this year,” says Arya.
Days before the opening, the 59-year-old graduate in history from Delhi University can be seen pacing around the 18,000 square feet museum, guiding carpenters and carefully unwrapping the 2,000 cameras he has collected in the last 40 years. “I do not have any favourites because each piece has its own place in history. There is a unique camera called Ticka from 1907 that looks like a watch but is actually a spy camera. People tell me stories like their grandfather used a certain camera on his first trip to Europe among others,” he says.
Upon entering the museum, a chandelier made of old Yashica cameras catches immediate attention. “I used to exhibit my collection in my basement in Gurgaon. A few years ago, when officials from the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon saw it, they decided to give me land. The project is in collaboration with the India Photo Archive Foundation,” says Arya, who has arranged Rs 70 lakh through crowd-funding.
Chronologically displayed, the vintage cameras are meticulously placed in the shelves. The collection starts with Camera Obscura — world’s first camera — to a modern-day Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. One of Arya’s most iconic pieces is the Fairchild K20 that was used to shoot the Hiroshima bombings during the Second World War. “I found it at a junk shop in Delhi. It was not difficult to find it because American troops were trained in Kharagpur. So many of the cameras used during the war came back to India,” he says.
Back in the day, portraits were the most famous genres of photography. “That is how so many of these cameras ended up here. Back then portraits were developed in England and France. The maharajas in India, who previously used to patronise artists, wanted to get family portraits as well. Hence, a number of studios sprung up in India. At the end of the day, everything ended up with the kabaadiwallah, and from various junk dealers, they heard for me. I am the ultimate parking spot for most antique pieces,” says Arya with a laugh.
He has collected three studio cameras from Mumbai and Delhi junk dealers. He recalls spending hours with the local dealers till a few years ago. “The area around Jama Masjid was a treasure trove back in the ’60s. I can still spend hours at Chor Bazaar in Mumbai,” he says.
Efforts have also been made to interact with the audience. People can get their portraits clicked in a period studio, which features props from the early 1900s, which include white curtains that function as a giant light box. The ground floor has a dark room where workshops will be held regularly and photographers can develop their prints. “We are starting a photography institute on the first floor, where we will offer a year-long diploma course,” said Arya. Exhibitions by professional photographers will be held on the first floor, while the second floor will be used to showcase works of budding photographers. The ground floor will be ticketed at a few hundred rupees while the first and second floors are open to all. The space will also house a cafe, library, seminar rooms and a gift shop.
The walls in the museum display old camera advertisements, such as that of a 3A Folding Pocket Kodak. “I have around a thousand advertisements and patents. They are important to the history of photography because they are only created when a new technology is being announced,” said the photographer. In addition, Arya has been documenting the construction of the museum, which will also be exhibited near the entrance. “These are a tribute to those who have constructed the museum,” says Arya, who, for many years, used to search for different kinds of cameras. “Even though I still do, they (people) find me now. While some sell their cameras, some gift it to the museum because they want the legacy to carry on,” he concludes.
For visits, contact museocamera.org