Situated in a basement in Gurgaon lies a museum that houses vintage cameras and rare collection of photographs, and has the distinction of being the only curated camera museum in Asia. Run from their house by visual historian Aditya Arya and his wife Rita Arya, the museum preserves a piece of history through these objects and images, some which decades old.
With over 1,000 items carefully preserved in his house, Arya hopes to create a sense of awareness around the things we often choose
The Museo Camera, as the facility is called, was established in 2009 by Aditya, who has been collecting antique cameras for over 35 years now. Also placed here are the visual archives of Kulwant Roy, who worked as a photojournalist in pre-Independence India
Aditya also gets cameras from flea markets, and sometimes even from scrap dealers. Among the prominent items showcased at this museum are photographic apparatus such as the earliest flash equipment, photographic films, lenses, enlargers and light meters.
One of the cameras lies in a large box the label on which reads “Camera, aircraft type K-20 Handle with Care”. It was designed for the U.S. Air Force and was meant to be kept in their aircraft to document the infamous attack on Hiroshima in 1945.
Photography is often seen as a useful tool to document history. However, Aditya sees the two as being inextricably linked together. He says, “History is linked with the art of photography. Each era has its own language of photography, which is exclusive to it.”
One of the images in the Kulwant Roy’s collection is a photograph of Jawaharlal Nehru comforting a young Rajiv Gandhi, before leaving on a foreign trip as Indira Gandhi looks on. Most of the photos in his collection seem to be of genuinely intimate moments. Elaborating on this, Rita Arya says, “Photographers were earlier given intimate access to political figures, and were up close and personal with the action. Nowadays, a photographer could be half a mile away and take a picture of someone using powerful lens. This takes away from the personal nature of the moment.”
Speaking about the evolving nature of photography, Aditya adds, “Photography also shares a deep connect with technology. It is possibly the only art form that is so deeply influenced by technology. As a result of this, it has changed drastically every 10 years or so ever since its inception in 1840.”
He laments the setback that the art of photography seems to have suffered as a result of the digital age we live in. According to him, “Photography used to be a very well thought-out, methodical and precise act. One would need to visualise the image before clicking it, because there was no delete button back then. Now I see people rush to click a photograph. No one pauses to ponder over what they’re clicking, because they have the option to choose one from a range of photos taken. This can make a person very lazy and unaware. Seeing before clicking is the key to a good photograph.”
“Photography also shares a deep connect with technology. It is possibly the only such art form that is so deeply influenced by technology. As a result of this, photography has changed drastically every 10 years or so ever since its inception in 1840.”
To counter this, Aditya conducts workshops which delve into the photographic processes of the past. Most recently, he conducted a workshop at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, in which he sought to educate people on things such as the Collodian Process, Egg Albumen Prints, Cynotype Prints from the 19th century. He adds, “To understand the history and evolution of photography its essential to practically experience some of these historical printing processes.”
There are also many other interesting relics here. One of them is a part of a series of cameras, nicknamed “Raja”, which were sold in the U.S. for a princely hundred dollars back in the 1970s. Interestingly, it was made in Delhi by an individual who had modelled it after the popular Deardorff cameras.
Aditya has previously set up a makeshift museum in Select City Walk mall in Delhi in August this year, and one in Pragati Maidan in January.
Judging by the footfall of as much as 30,000 through the course of four days in Pragati Maidan, he claims that people are still interested in what he has to offer. However, his attempts to find a suitable sponsor remain unfulfilled.
He admits that maintaining a collection such as this takes a financial toll. He says, “Of course this is a tough thing to do monetarily. We are open to the idea of corporate sponsorship, but have found no one willing to step up. Even though the Ministry of Culture has offered a helping hand, that can only happen once we have the land to set up a proper museum.”
But he has found many donors who have given their own vintage cameras which date back to their grandparents’ generation. Speaking about his passion for photography, Aditya mentions Kulwant Roy’s name saying, “My passion for photography has a lot to do with the Kulwant Roy collection, which I received after he passed away. The collection includes more than 20,000 negatives taken before and after the time of partition.”