Slightly more than twenty years ago, Solaiyappan Ramanathan’s father, who was a banker and an avid photoholic, decided to pass him a twin lens camera — a 1933 Rolleicord. It sparked off Ramanathan’s interest in collecting cameras and he started doing so as a hobby.
But one man’s meat is another man’s poison, and the advent of photography and invention of cameras meant the eventual relegation and downfall of some artists. Ramanathan’s cousin, AP Shreethar, who was a painter himself, called cameras his enemies.
Interestingly enough, it was Shreethar’s aversion to cameras that urged him to ask Ramanathan to “befriend his enemy”, and the whole idea of procuring vintage cameras from around the world was born.
Situated along Jalan Kledek in Kampong Glam, The Vintage Cameras Museum is the brainchild of both Ramanathan and Shreethar. The museum, which is also Singapore’s first camera museum, stands 22 feet tall and 36 feet wide, and has a peculiar entrance shaped like a lens.
I later learnt from Ramanathan that he had intended visitors to experience the thrill of walking through the lens into the museum.
Over two decades, the duo have amassed about 7,000 different cameras in their collection. The Vintage Cameras Museum in Singapore, however, only houses about 1,000 cameras.
How did you guys do it?
“Initially, it was easy to pick up the cameras from friends and relatives. Then, we started getting duplicates and triplicates. Afterwards, we started to go to auction houses, fellow collectors, and old item vendors.
Some items, like the pigeon cameras and the world’s first button camera, can take quite an effort to find.”
Among the eclectic and extensive range of vintage cameras, you’ll find yourself marvelling at a replica of the world’s largest camera built by George R. Lawrence in its watered down grandiose, as well as the world’s tiniest digital camera measuring only one inch in all dimensions.
Ramanathan, who is a businessman, confessed that he does not travel exclusively to procure the cameras, but he does make it a point to visit auction houses on business trips or family vacations.
However, he did admit that both he and his cousin had a little trouble securing the pigeon cameras.
Having diligently scoured for the pigeon cameras for six to seven years, the duo came to know of a seller in Austria. When they arrived, the seller had decided to withhold the products for an auction. Fortunately, the duo settled for a premium and brought the cameras into the collection.
The Vintage Cameras Museum also boasts detailed documentaries for participants to better comprehend the evolution of cameras and its journey thus far. You can sign up for a tour with the affable museum guides who will be more than willing to explain the intricacies of each section.
These Robo Toy Cameras were definitely one of the many memorable playthings I had back in the day.
The museum also features a small section that offers visitors a little insight into the elusive craft of espionage — spy cameras. Of which, inconspicuous or mundane objects, such as a lighter, can act as a tool to aid officials on missions.
The museum also boasts an extended section, the Click Art Museum, which is filled with paintings that were created by the museum’s other co-founder, artist Shreethar.
It goes without saying that we had a whale of a time snapping shots there.
It was a herculean task back in the day to document precious moments, and my trip to The Vintage Cameras Museum reminded me to be grateful for the devices (and conveniences) that I yield. If you’re tired of the usual art exhibitions in Singapore, swing by here for a completely new museum experience.
Prices: $20 (per adult)