Funnily enough, the only museum actually located on Bloomsbury’s famous Museum Street is arguably one of London’s less well-known museums: The Camera Museum. It’s a real shame that this place doesn’t have a higher profile – it may be small, but its contents are fascinating and provide a very happy wander down memory lane.
Created and run by the Tang brothers, Patrick and Adrian, The Camera Museum’s stated aim is to preserve cameras from all periods and show them to the public. Indeed members of the public are encouraged to help increase the Museum’ collection by donating camera-related equipment and many of these donations are on display.
Every decade since the invention of the camera is represented. Beginning with those beautiful old box cameras, which nowadays you only see in costume dramas, the Museum plays host to a range of Kodak brownies, with the oldest dating back to 1907 (a Kodak Model A). Indeed, as the exhibition demonstrates, Kodak ruled the roost for a good half century or so, alongside Coronet & Brown and Voigtlander. Meaning that there is an element of sadness to the display – even when I came along (much later than 1907, I hasten to add), Kodak was the predominant player in the market, synonymous with photography – nowadays, though, it is nowhere to be seen, having failed to keep up with technology and the arrival of the digital era.
There can be few people who haven’t owned or used a Kodak camera. I was over the moon to see a Kodak Instamatic Pocket 100 camera in the Museum: my family had one of those, and it was a big event when we purchased it. A good 30 years later, looking at the exact same model, together with an identical set of instructions, left me with a lump in my throat. Such is the power of nostalgia.
As the exhibition progresses, we see the shape & colour of a standard camera change and by the 1960s the market had really opened up, with brands including Zenit, Konica, Yashica and Fujica all popular with consumers. The likes of Pentax, Olympus and Canon would follow hot on their heels. Hands up which of you owned a camera made by one of the above?
And then, along came Polaroid – and the game completely changed. How to explain, to today’s digital generation, the excitement at seeing a photo be delivered to you just one minute after you pressed ‘Click’? For a while, Polaroid ruled the world and it’s fair to say that none of us ever viewed photography in the same light again.
This museum is full of memories. It doesn’t just feature cameras; all sorts of other photographic equipment is on display, too, including various types of 20th century film – oh, and flashcubes. Remember those? There are also a couple of fabulously iconic items on display, including the camera/disguised machine gun sported by Timothy Dalton in ‘Licence to Kill’ (an item which, it seems to me, is potentially fraught with hazard: I mean, what if you accidentally take a selfie?) – plus, a number of inventions I never even knew existed until today, such as the Transistomatic Radio Camera.
Photography these days is undoubtedly quicker and far more effective – it’s impossible not to be thankful for the advancement of technology. Yet, what this museum does is return you to a time when taking a photograph was a far more significant event than it is now – I’m calling to mind the sepia photos I possess, taken two or three generations ago, of family members gazing solemnly into the camera lens (smiling for photos back then was frowned upon). I wouldn’t want to halt technology’s progress, but for a moment or two, standing in the labour of love that is The Camera Museum, I couldn’t help but be wistful for a time long before the selfie was even a twinkle in Kim Kardashian’s eye.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there is also a very good cafe here; it’s reasonably priced and serves a tasty range of hot & cold snacks, not to mention an excellent range of fresh juices – I tried the apple & mint juice, which was delicious.
P.S. Having barely been familiar with Eduardo Paolozzi’s work until a couple of months ago, when I visited his retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery (read my review here), I was amused to spot one of his prints hanging upstairs in The Camera Museum. I came across another such print a few weeks ago at The V&A Museum – he seems to pop up all over the place.