CHENNAI: 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.
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 Sudesi Mitran 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.