Published: 26th May 2021
This museum curated by a Chennai dentist has over 3,000 vintage cameras from across the world!
Orthodontist and collector Dr A V Arun has collected more than 3,000 rare cameras and vintage cameras, finds Blessy Mathew Prasad
They say a picture says a thousand words, but in Dr Arun's Photography and Vintage Camera Museum, it's the cameras that do all the talking. From being used in war planes during World War II to an eight-foot-long camera that's one of the only two pieces of its kind in the world, the museum in Chennai has over 3,000 cameras which include several rare ones, dating back to the 1870s.
Dr A V Arun, who is also an orthodontist and Chairman of the Indian Orthodontic Society collected his first camera in 1997, when he purchased two old film cameras for Rs 200 at a flea market in Chennai. He dismantled them to see how it works and there has been no stopping him since then. So much so that he ran out of room in his house and had to build a museum, which, is now getting crowded as well.
"People say that old cameras are just rubbish, because it serves no purpose. But I used to keep collecting cameras from ragpickers and my collection started growing," Arun explains. In 2013, there was a World Camera Fair at Chennai Trade Centre. They invited Arun to display about 300 cameras and gave him a big hall right at the centre with display shelves and stands. That exhibition was a game changer because there were about 5 lakh people who visited the fair over the four days and the camera display became a huge hit.
Arun was invited again the next couple of years and his reputation started growing, he began getting invitations from schools and colleges. He also taught History of Photography for students of Visual Communication. Currently, the museum holds the Asia Book of Records for the largest collection of cameras and Arun is trying to get it into the Guinness Book of World Records.
The museum houses a collection of over 3,000 cameras. The oldest camera in the collection dates back to 1875 while the world's first camera was only invented in 1850. It is a British-make, completely wooden camera. "Someone from Chandigarh called me up and asked me if I want it. When I researched about the camera and saw the pictures, I felt it was too risky to be couriered, so I went by train to Chandigarh to get it," says Arun, explaining how valuable it is to him.
Everytime Arun travels abroad for work, he takes a day to visit flea markets. He says, "When I went to Australia, I met an old Chinese collector. He gave me about 25 old cameras which were quite rare for a very minimal rate." When asked about the value of his collection, he says, "There's no value. It may seem like rubbish to some, but of great value to others. For instance, my wife might probably wonder why I would even spend Rs 50 on something that's of no use, but a collector might be willing to pay even a few lakhs for the sane camera because of how rare it is. I have some cameras which were used during the second world war by the British and US Air Force on the plane. Those cameras were made specifically for the airforce, for taking pictures from above. I also have about 150 books on cameras, which are quite rare as well."
Talking about his collection, he says, "A man from Pondicherry called me once and gave me an old Canon camera, and I realised there were only about a few thousands of that model manufactured across the world. I have cameras which were used for making 3D pictures. It has two lenses which focus on the same object and creates a 3D effect. There's another camera called the Horizon in which the lens can rotate itself and the film is also bent in a curve to create a panoramic image without distortion."
Dr Arun's Photography and Vintage Camera Museum was set up in 2017 on ECR, Chennai and was open to the public until the pandemic hit.