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Saturday September 21, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday September 21, 2013 MYT 9:31:03 AM
by patsy kam
Hamming it up: One of the murals on show.
A unique museum in Penang documents how the humble camera has evolved through the centuries.
WHEN my son was 11, he took a camera to school to take pictures of his class trip. His classmate had never seen a traditional camera that used film before and was intrigued that there was no screen to show a preview of the photograph. He opened up the back of the camera as he wanted to see how it was possible for the pictures to be stored on film.
My son came home crying that day because his photographs were ruined as they had been exposed. He has since recovered from that mini trauma and today, he takes pretty good pictures with a digital camera, using all sorts of creative angles.
It was then that it struck me that it wouldn’t be long before film cameras became obsolete and relegated to the past, along with casette decks and video tape recorders.
I must have been a clairvoyant, as five years later, a chance meeting with an old friend led me to discover the Camera Museum.
Located in a two-storey pre-war shophouse that has been charmingly refurbished to cleverly infuse old elements with new design concepts, the museum is located along Lebuh Muntri, Georgetown.
Newly opened in July, it exhibits vintage cameras from the 1800s right up till present day digitalised compacts and SLRs. There is also a photography exhibition area, a Pinhole Room, Obscura Room, Dark Room, Special Collection Room, Snapshot merchandise area and Double Exposure Cafe.
An ingenious idea that was mooted during a conversation between friends in 2012, the museum took off after a year of planning and sourcing of cameras from all over the world including Europe, Russia, India, Thailand, Britain and France.
Tony Ch’ng, 34, had gone to see a friend in Terengganu who happened to be a vintage camera collector. For the first time, he saw a Twin Lens Rolleiflex and was fascinated. Someone cracked a joke about how everything was going digital and it would make sense to open a camera museum.
One thing led to another, and Ch’ng, together with six other friends – Najieb Ariff Nazir Ariff, 34; Christopher Cheah, 30; Venus Khor, 29, Lance Ooi, 27; Paul Lee, 27; Adrian Soh, 26 – pooled their resources to open South-East Asia’s first ever Camera Museum; it’s even acknowleged in The Malaysia Book Of Records.
These young Penangites come from various fields, ranging from banking, advertising, business and tourism development, and their efforts to preserve a piece of history have succeeded in attracting quite a number of local and foreign tourists since the museum opened its doors.
“Of course, it would be great if the museum turns out to be a successful business venture but the whole idea is to be able to offer a different aspect of tourism,” says Ch’ng, whose other business involves developing tourism content for Penang town.
Altogether, there are about 250 cameras on display currently but there are some 500 pieces in the collection, which will be curated for exhibition from time to time. It was no mean feat going about obtaining the cameras.
“The largest format camera that you see near the entrance, for instance, took a year to secure – we had to convince the owner to sell, and only on the condition that it would be well taken care of and solely for the museum, to be enjoyed by other camera enthusiasts,” explains Ch’ng. “It used to belong to a friend’s uncle who owns a photo studio in Terengganu who is a collector as well. It cost RM10,000 and is one of the more expensive pieces we have on display.”
Another interesting exhibit comes from France and dates back to 1807. Developed by William Hyde Wallaston, the Camera Lucida (in French, la Chambre Claire) was more of a tracing tool than a photographic device as we know it today. It gives an optical superimposition of the subject which the artist then duplicates on the drawing surface.
There’s also the Rukuoh-sha machine gun camera, made in 1929 during World War II. The story goes that 10,000 pieces of the Japanese type-89 camera were manufactured by the Konishoruko Camera Company, and the exhibit at the Camera Museum is number 7,968. A unique contraption that was a cross between a still and a movie camera, it snapped 18X24mm images on 35mm film at 10 frames per second, and was deemed advanced technology for its time.
Mounted on Japanese military aircraft, the camera was used to train would-be gunners to shoot targeted locations during training flights. After the photographs were developed and accuracy of the “shots” ascertained, those who showed proficiency would then progress to a real machine gun.
You can also view Brownies from Eastman Kodak; underwater cameras; some of the first mini compacts ever made; fun toy cameras; a limited edition gold brass Leica; a 150-year-old American folding camera; the Rolleiflex and the Graflex Speed Graphic press camera; and a French Le Minimus stereoscope 3D picture viewer – an amazing testament to the fact that 3D isn’t that new a concept after all!
Some of his personal favourites, says Ch’ng, are the old polaroid cameras which he feels were ahead of their time as they were so innovative.
“At a time when everyone was going ‘tech’, the polaroid signified an alternative approach. It was the “lifestyle” camera of that era as it was fun and different.”
Interactive play is introduced via themed rooms, such as The Pinhole Room, which has a tiny hole in the wall which lets light through and projects the upside down image on the opposite wall. This illustrates the basic principle behind how a camera works.
The Obscura Room shows how light goes through a small hole and produces an inverted image that’s projected from an angled mirror onto a glass panel on the camera device. Then, there is the Dark Room, which shows how photographs are produced via chemical processing. Although not that old a technology, most young people today would never have seen how film was developed as recently as a decade ago.
Beyond being just a museum, the Penang Camera Museum and its founders hope to ignite a passion for photography through workshops and exhibitions, as well as encourage interest in this swiftly evolving field.
For more details, check out PenangCameraMuseum.com; Opening hours: daily 9am to 8pm. Tickets: RM20. Student and senior citizens: RM10.
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Camera Museum, Georgetown, Rolleiflex, digital
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