AMI Arts Festival 2022 featured a unique exhibition of the Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy and a collection of 9 vintage cameras from Museo Camera.
The journey of Museo Camera began in 2009 in the basement of Photographer, Historian, Archivist, Aditya Arya as a personal collection of photographic equipment. Today it is the largest not-for-profit crowd-funded Centre for Photographic Arts in South East Asia. A unique public-private partnership between India Photo Archive Foundation and The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram, it is one of its kind in India with 18,000 sq. ft. of space dedicated to the art of Photography.
In addition to curating the exhibition, Mr. Arya also conducted a workshop on the cyanotype printing process as part of AMI 2022. We had the opportunity to interview Mr. Aditya Arya during the festival.
KCC: Tell us something about your experiences when it comes to the journey of establishing Museo Camera Centre for the Photographic Arts.
Aditya Arya: The journey was very interesting as we never had money and when you have to operate within many constraints, you come up with many creative ideas. Each day was a challenge, but there was a solution at the end of the day.
KCC: At a time when digital megapixels have taken over, you are teaching people the salt print process and cyanotype printing process. How do your students relate to the photographic methods of the past?
Aditya: I am trying to slow down today’s fast paced generation who are interested in shooting 5000 images in 5 minutes.
The idea is to slow down and understand these historical processes which are very interesting to learn. Unlike in an arts institute, in photography, you are taught how to create images as per the modern method. But anybody undertaking a course in photography should also understand the history of the medium. Hence, it is the history of the medium which we address.
My students are all willing to slow down and understand the process. They are all amazed at the magic of photography when they see the image appear out of nowhere.
KCC: The salt print process is expensive and not in use anymore. When we barely take prints of photos anymore, thanks to mobile phones and digital cameras, what is the importance of teaching this process according to you?
When you are shooting on film, you previsualize and capture because there is no screen to see the image. There is no instant gratification. Today’s world is moving around something called a “delete button”. When there is no delete button you have to figure out how to capture a great image within a limited opportunity.
These historical processes are revered as art forms. There are practitioners making salt prints and cyanotype prints and creating great art using those processes. It’s not only historical, it’s about a process which is being adopted as an art form.
In our museum, we sell a few hundred rolls of film every month. When I was young, a film used to cost Rs.40. Today, the same roll costs Rs.900. You had one chance to pre visualize and capture an image. That perfection, that previsualization is best taught through the slow processes.
KCC: Why did you choose Kulwant Roy as the muse, if I may, for the visual archives?
Aditya: Kulwant Roy’s works are one of the largest archives we have and it is one of the most significant archives in the country. We have more than 5 to 6 thousand images of the freedom movement.
During his time, everything was shot on sheet film cameras and there was a possibility of a single exposure. One single shot. We can see in his images and his works how perfection was achieved.
KCC: AMI Arts Festival is a one-of-a-kind space. You’ve been physically present in this exhibition everyday and have interacted with a number of visitors. According to you, how has the reception of the audience been?
Aditya: I like to talk to people and learn from them. When you are talking to them, it’s not only about imparting knowledge, it is also a learning process. You are trying to understand why they would think like that, and what was intriguing according to their perspective. I’ve met a lot of people and it’s good to hear their views.
I studied history and I was always put off by it as there were no pictures. There are a lot of places which can be associated with Babur or Akbar, but we do not find history books very well illustrated. The modern Indian period is especially full of visuals. But here, it’s fun to talk to the children and show them pictures of Abdul Ghaffār Khān, also known as Frontier Gandhi, and we give them cards as something to remember us by.
KCC: Why did you select vintage cameras as your choice of equipment and not more modern, digital ones?
Aditya: Photography as a medium has been deeply influenced by technology. We have a collection of around 5 – 6 thousand cameras, starting from the 1860s. It’s about the story of technology and its evolution. The museum tries to connect these dots and tell the story of how these images were being created.
KCC: You have attended many different types of festivals. How is AMI different?
Aditya: AMI is a growing festival. It is interesting to watch how they are tackling the whole situation and managing. It is all about how adaptive you are. Creativity is about instant solutions to problems.
*Feature image: Aditya Arya with artists Arunima Choudhury and Goutam Chowdhury at AMI Arts Festival 2022
This interview has been conducted by Ms. Anamika Mukhopadhyay, student of M.A. (in English) at the University of Calcutta.
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Aditya Arya is an eminent commercial and travel photographer. Over the past few years, he has been completely immersed in the subject and practice of photographic conservation. He has honed his skills and knowledge on preservation, restoration and archiving. He has played a pivotal role in the establishment of the India Photo Archive Foundation and the Neel Dongre Awards/Grants for Excellence in Photography. At present, he divides his time between his photography archive and Museo Camera—the largest not-for-profit photography museum in South-East Asia.