Highlights

  • Sitting down for conversation with Aditya Arya
  • What's responsible for a photo - the device or the photographer's eye?
  • A look at some of the most pivotal archiving tools in history

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In this episode of 'The Footnote' we sit down with Aditya Arya, home to over 2000 unique photographic equipment - today it is the largest not-for-profit crowd funded Centre for Photographic Arts in South East Asia.

Nestled within the high rises of Gurugram, is 18,000 sq. ft. of space dedicated to the art of Photography. Home to over 2000 cameras from across History, Museo Camera is an archive of the most important archiving tool. What started as a basement collection of one man’s passion, has now become a cultural and historical hub. Today we speak with Aditya Arya, the man behind Museo.

Nishtha Shanti - Can you tell us a little bit about your journey with collecting cameras? What prompted you to take this on?

Aditya Arya - My journey started as an advertising photographer. Before that, I was a student of history. History always fascinated me. And history of not only politics, but places, objects, the story, the underlying stories, which were how did things evolve? How were they invented? So, photography being my profession, it led to a kind of a passion to study the cameras, the evolution, the story. I ended up collecting many thousands of cameras. My first camera was also which was given to me at the age of 17 was a Zeiss Ikon, which my father had picked up in fifties. So, the collection started with my own cameras and few other cameras from kabadi markets. And, you know, it kept evolving. I used to read and I constantly read. Today everything is easily accessible on Google. But there was no there was a time when I had to go to the library set to flip through books. Knowledge was accessed and sourced differently.

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NS - This camera collection is vast and really does capture some very pivotal moments in history. What are your most prized cameras and how did you acquire them?

AA- Camera Lucida. It's an object said device which led to the invention and discovery of the idea of making negatives and positives by a man called Talbot in England. It's a copying device. And I had only seen the images and once I was in London, and I saw this little box lying in one corner of one of these dealers. And I saw and I said, my God, this is probably from 1810, 1820. He said, 'Yes, this is an original piece'. A lot of Kabadis keep in touch with me. One day I got a series of WhatsApp messages. I said it's all trash. The dealer said 'No, sir. Look at it, it says aerial camera'. It took me around 4 hours to find that place. And I reached there and I found these cameras and boxes.

And meanwhile I started doing a lot of research on what kind of cameras were used in World War. These were the cameras which were actually made in 1445 during the World War to capture the aerial reconnaissance, bombardment and postwar destruction. And it turned out to be that Kharagpur was one of the places where a lot of photographers were trained during the World War, the American photographers. So, you know, I ended up buying all of them and bringing them to the museum. And then I started to locate more cameras. Could never find more cameras. 15,000 were made. We have 13 of them.


NS - With the age of digitisation, how has the process of taking a photograph changed?

AA - These are the devices. Which created the histories, the visual histories. But what is very interesting is when you see an old picture, there are so many layers which are lying buried under the top layer. That top layer is what you see and you react to and say, 'Wow, this is amazing' For me, there is another story which a lot of people forget or ignore or choose not to talk about. That is the story of how was this image taken? What was the process? How long did it take? What kind of chemicals were used? That is an interesting part of the story for me. And this is what this museum is about. Various stories. How were the studios operated? What kind of negatives? The story of photography is how the silver grains turn into the pixels of today. People from analog generation pre-visualized a photo. A born digital generation thinks differently. They know there they have hundreds of possibilities which are at their fingertips today. The iPhone is a great camera and mobile allows you to do anything and everything. And there are apps to do processing and but you still have to have an eye.


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NS - In times of great calamity and tragedy, what role do you think a photographer plays?

AA - Photographer has another role, which is to share what he's seeing with his audience or public at large. So how far he wants to push himself is purely his prerogative. There has to be some kind of ethics involved in it. It's very complicated. Some people may say 'he should have saved that person, but he was taking pictures' So was there empathy involved or was there no empathy involved? It's very difficult to answer that question.

NS - You have an enviable career that has spanned over four decades, what is your favourite work?

AA - In 1980s, I was in Mumbai. I used to do still photography for film industry. I shot a film called 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron', a little bit of work for 'Chashme Baddoor' and Syed Mirza's 'Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho'. And there I met a lady called Neena Gupta, and I shot some pictures of her, which she considers one of her best portrait ever done. And I fell in love with that portrait.

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