Presenting Harmony's silvers - sparkling lives, success stories, accounts of endurance, courage, grit and passion
C Sekar, 62

In sepia

Author: admin

Cameras make memories but this collector’s memories are tied to his adventures in acquiring these fantastic machines

Chinnasamy Sekar knows a thing or two about patience. This ace restorer and collector of vintage cameras picks up a Bolex H-16 M—a leather-covered camera with a leather strap that slips across the back of your hand—and is instantly transported back in time.

“When I was in school in 1961, we were shown a silent movie shot on a Bolex 16 mm. That camera left an indelible impression on my mind. So when a Bolex H-16 M came up for auction in Delhi, I spent all my savings to buy it. It was an accomplishment,” says the proprietor of Sekar Camera House in Chennai, who adds that his prized camera is still partly functional.

Patience, perseverance and persistence have helped Sekar piece together a jaw-dropping collection of 3,500 vintage cameras across 35 years. Amazingly, 70 per cent of them are in working order. “I started my career in camera repair at a time when India was transitioning from analogue to digital cameras. At that time, there were only three people who were repairing cameras in Chennai. I saw this as an opportunity to carve a niche for myself,” explains Sekar, who holds a diploma in mechanical engineering.

The story he loves telling most is about two cameras once owned by former Tamil Nadu chief minister M G Ramachandran. “I followed up for nearly two years to get my hands on them. After MGR passed away, his Hasselblad and Bronica cameras passed on to a friend, who would not part with them. I used to visit the friend once a week to coax and cajole him into selling them to me. But he said the same thing every time, ‘I do not want to part with them during my lifetime.’ Three years later, when he passed away, his children called and handed them over to me,” recounts Sekar.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask, he says with a smile, referring to how he bought an Nikkormat EL, a camera belonging to Harry Miller, chief photographer of The Indian Express in the 1990s in Chennai. “He used to click those iconic photographs with it and I just had to have that camera. So I picked up the courage and directly asked him if I could buy his camera. Imagine my surprise when he agreed!”

Sekar admits that repairing analogue cameras can be a huge challenge as parts are often obsolete and sometimes impossible to replace. “Sometimes I make the parts with fabricators, or I dismantle some cameras and use their parts in other instruments.”

He says customers walk in almost every day to get their vintage and digital cameras repaired. “People bring them in, not knowing their commercial value. In most cases, these cameras belonged to their grandparents or great-grandparents and they want to preserve them,” he says. “Most customers have no intention of actually using these vintage beauties but want them in working condition before locking them up in their cupboards.”

Excellent manual dexterity with small tools and components and attention to detail are the key attributes one needs to repair cameras, he points out. “Along with this, you need a lot of patience and you can never run out of small screwdrivers, spanners and tweezers,” he quips.

When younger, Sekar used to work on cameras 14 hours a day. Today, at 62, he spends half the time on the job. He also takes classes for media students, in his home, free of cost. “Most students of visual communication and the media have seen only a few photographs made by these cameras. I take them through the evolution of cameras, using my collection.” The idea, he reveals, is to not let analogue cameras completely fade from our collective consciousness.

—Jayanthi Somasundaram

Photo: Chennai Pix/Harmony Archives
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
October 2018