A lensman's pride

A lensman's pride

Unusual passions

A lensman's pride

With his wild, frizzy hair, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Albert Einstein. But it’s not just the wild mope that photographer Aditya Arya shares with the scientist. Arya also seems to play the part. He has an innate, scientific curiosity about how things work and takes no time nor prompting to explore the innards of any new gizmo that comes his way.

“I don’t enjoy digital because you can’t see the inside of the chip,” he says with a tinge of regret. But as if to compensate, Arya has an entire museum of old analogue cameras stashed in the basement of his house in DLF Gurgaon. 

It’s an old curiosity shop which houses not only 400-odd cameras from the camera obscura downwards, but also old films, slides, daguerreotypes, advertisements and memorabilia that promise to take you down photography’s memory lane. 

Aditya himself gives anyone who cares to show up at this camera museum a guided tour. Here you can expect to see the evolution of photography through all its stages. “The most important aspect of images is that people looked at them at different times and different eras through different pieces of equipment, so their gaze was constantly being dictated and changed by the equipment that was being used at that time. So the gaze evolved with the equipment. Because you had restrictions, you could look only a certain way,” he says. 

And this is attested by the big, unwieldy cameras on display at the museum. Some of them are on heavy tripods, many attached to large bellows and flashbulbs and you wonder how the old timers took any photos at all with these monstrosities. 

“At that time it was discipline. Today people know that equipment can take care of a bad picture and they can be further corrected on Photoshop — so the indiscipline has happened because of possibilities,” he says. By that logic it would appear that back in the day, having technical knowledge was far more important to make a good photographer than an aesthetic eye. 

“I see more and more trashy stuff nowadays. Today, decisive moment is not needed anymore. You can take multiple photos and pick a photo out of 500. People are in a great hurry today,” he says. 

He starts the tour from where it all began — the pin-hole camera or the camera obscura. It is a wooden contraption, which he says functions perfectly well even today. Near it sits the Kodak Century Graphic camera — the oldest and the most popular studio camera in the world in the 1890’s. It is also one of the chunkiest one in Aditya’s collection. The platform it’s built into is ornate and heavy, and the whole thing is on wheels. “I found it in a kabariwala’s shop in Delhi three to four years ago. As soon as I heard of it, I rushed to the shop. It was dumped in a corner and was covered in cobwebs,” he says.

Except for a few cameras that have been donated to his museum by generous photographer friends and some others bought at auctions, most of the old cameras have been obtained by raiding kabariwala’s shops in every city he travelled to. 

Aditya began building up his formidable camera collection as a student at St Stephen’ s College. Such was his fascination for old cameras that he even ran an advertisement in newspapers for them. 

And in all these years of scouring and rummaging, Aditya got his hands on some remarkable cameras. He holds up a what he calls the world’s first aperture. The apertures were rings and had to be slid into the lens. Then he picks up a Leica, which he says Hitler used for his Nazi party. It was also a camera used by his great grand uncle Kulwant Roy, a photojournalist who shot iconic photographs of important leaders and events during and after The Raj. 

Roy, who remained unsung and died penniless in his own day, was resurrected from oblivion when Aditya who had been bequeathed truckloads of his films decided to give them a look. What he discovered was a bonanza of important historical events, which he is painstakingly archiving through his India Photo Archives. 

The museum is in fact an extension of the archiving work which Aditya began on Roy’s photos in 2008. Today, Aditya’s archiving and camera collection take up two floors of his house. But Aditya says he would ideally require thrice the space if he were to exhibit all his photography wares properly.