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Friday, July 1, 2016

Camera mechanic Sekar ~ struggle with cameras and feeding green parrots !!

Until a couple of decades ago, photography was a costly affair practised only by those who can afford…… there were famous names such as – Agfa, Kodak, Konica – which all sold film rolls.  Anybody returning from a foreign trip used to gift film rolls of 24 or 36 to friends and relatives. There were some manual cameras where you had to move everytime a photo was taken and some automatic –  .. one was unsure  of the results and one had to wait with bated breath after giving the roll – expecting some good items captured do turn out well ! – there was the standard instruction of Only Good prints (OGP)’ whence the shop will print only those which had come out well.  The developing might take a couple of days and another annoying thing was that the result of the capture would never be known until the entire roll was complete ! – all story of past !!

The name Kodak has been synonymous with the world of cameras since the firm was founded by George Eastman in the 19th Century.  His vision to keep Kodak at the forefront of photography by the masses has seen its peaks and troughs.  George Eastman saw Kodak take off after pioneering roll film in 1886 - an alternative to cumbersome photographic plates normally only developed by chemists and specialists. The opaque backing paper allowed roll film to be loaded in daylight. It is typically printed with frame number markings which can be viewed through a small red window at the rear of the camera. Big fish eating small fish often happens in market and sometimes even smaller fish takes over the much bigger one – but the death of Kotak was not by any of its competitor in Camera selling.  It was the technology of digital cameras, whose existence also is now challenged by …………… again not cameras, but smartphones, as it is reported that the sale of ordinary device has plummetted 30% in five years.. .. .. the selfie culture and the popularity of smartphones having  cameras built in, meant familie -  no longer buying separate cameras. 

Photography is the science, art and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film. Typically, a lens is used to focus the light reflected or emitted from objects into a real image on the light-sensitive surface inside a camera during a timed exposure. A negative image on film is traditionally used to photographically create a positive image on a paper base, known as a print, either by using an enlarger or by contact printing.  World over, 29th June is Camera day ~ and read this interesting article that appeared in New Indian Express, Chennai edition of date.

Over 1,000 eyes look at us as we enter the humble home of C Sekar on Pycrofts Road.  Eyes here, refer to the lens of the vintage cameras that have been mounted in every nook and corner of his ‘camera house’.  Some packed in covers and some kept in the corners just waiting for it to be recognized, every camera has a story to tell. As we settle amid the cameras, Sekar who now owns over 4,500 cameras of different size, shapes, brands and nationality narrates his passion for these vintage beauties. “I am from Dharmapuri and I settled in Chennai 35 years ago. With a diploma in electronics, I had the knowledge on how to handle electronic gadgets,” he narrates as he dusts an Ikoflex.
New Indian Express photo

With only a handful of camera mechanics, Sekar became a sought after technician back in the 80’s. “All the technicians here were only trained to repair and fix manual cameras. Since I had a brief knowledge about it I was able to adapt to the changing mechanism in cameras and I became aware of every single equipment.” he goes on, “I always had the passion to have a vintage collection of something like cars, stamps or coins. But, I decided to collect something I was familiar with... Cameras!” he smiles. He not only owns the camera bodies but also camera essentials like old bulbs, cells, films and even the smallest wires!

A German camera with 100 feet film, a 160-year-old camera which is half-the-size of the room, cameras that work with keys, old pocket and foldable cameras in different sizes, wooden cameras, a camera which once took pictures of Gandhi and a 16-mm movie camera which has the footage of the Indo-Chinese war (1962) are some of his possessions. The 16-mm movie camera owned by L V Prasad, R Krishnan of SudesiMitran and MGR's Hasselblad and Guernica are other notable assets in his collection. With a major evolution in cameras from steel lenses to digitised screens, Sekar has seen and owns it all. “Cameras have evolved so much from the old bulb ones. Pocket cameras back then were the size of a big DSLR today!” he laughs.

Shedding light on how disk and floppy cameras were the first digitised cameras, he shares that he is proud of housing and preserving everything in one place. “I have history that is valuable to the country. But, there has been no recognition. People from Germany and other foreign countries visit me to see the collection. But, there hasn’t been much local support,” he shares.  As we head back to his office, a room filled with cameras and space just for two, he says, “I am planning to sell my cameras. I would love to give it to schools and universities if they're willing to buy.” Why? “I feed 4000 parrots every day and this is the place they fly to. The owners of this building have decided to sell this property and the tenants have been asked to move out. I want to buy this building with the money I get from selling the cameras. I want the parrots to have their home intact. Otherwise where will they go?” he asks.

Though bidding farewell to his cameras is tough, Sekar says, “I want these parrots to be safe. I want my cameras to be safe as well. There are people who say that they’ll take the cameras for free. I spent my life in procuring them and they’re asking it for free! What a weird world,” he smiles bleakly.

The man at start, Mr Sekar is known to me, has repaired my digital camera, more than that, everytime I pass around Pycrofts Road, I turn to look for his presence and if found, would chat a word or two happily.  I had earlier on a couple of occasions posted on the winged visitors [green parrots] flocking to his house also.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

30th June 2016.

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