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Kamat's Cameras

Kamat writes about his Obsession with Photography
Page Last Updated: May 09, 2017

May 8, 2001

Dear Vikas,

In today's letter I want to write about my photography. 

While growing up in Honavar during the 1940s, my friend Nakul Redkar's brother Dinna (Dinanath) had a Agfa Folding camera with him. I was always envious of the gadget, but I am not sure it was a working one, its chief function being an item to show off. When in middle school at the New English School, we boys had raised funds and had gifted an Agfa Click camera to the school. But who was to buy the film?! We had to hold a public fundraiser again to buy the film. This is he same camera we took on our trip to the Jog Falls in 1947. (Jog Falls, 1947 -- Kamat's adventure and photography began long before the website.) The subsequent year, our drawing teacher Mr. P.N.Prabhu obtained a large box camera and started professional photography in the town of Honavar. Whenever there was an occasion for a group photo in which Mr. Prabhu was to be included, he would always send for me to "click" the photograph. I eagerly looked forward to such opportunities! On numerous occasions I'd go to P.N.Prabhu's home to watch him work in the darkroom, and always fantasize about becoming a photographer.

My friend Rajaram Shastry somehow availed himself a toy-like camera, but knowing my obsession with the camera, he just let me take care of it. The very first photographs of many people in Honavar -- including those of your grand parents and all of the paternal uncles and aunts -- were hence taken. They are among the most important of photographs in our collection. After exposing the film, I had to find friends to take them to Mumbai for processing. After I joined the Canara college in Kumta, a teaching staff from Kerala, Mr. Augustine -- who used to teach Physics and used to live in the dorm with the students -- was also interested in photography and together we tried to establish a darkroom in the dorm, but it turned out to be a disaster due to lack of facilities and we abandoned the idea. For the next few years I availed the photographic services of Vaman Brothers of Madras by mail order.

© Vikas Kamat
Kamat`s Cameras
Kamat`s Cameras

When I was in Karnataka College in Dharwad, I started visiting the various photo studios in the city (Vijaya Studio, Raja Studio, and Sirvekar Studio) with a classmate, Ishwar Malagi. Since they were professionals, they did not care for amateurs, and perhaps saw us as competition. Professor Gidian of  the zoology department in our university had established a photography lab, but there were no volunteers to take advantage of the facilities, and they had stored dead animals in the dark room. Malagi and I cleaned the dark room, and started using it. We could freely use a large quantities of chemicals and photographic paper the professor had bought. When my class took a trip to the Crusandia Island, we took our own pictures developed them and printed them! Our farewell pictures were also thus taken. Similarly pictures taken at the Kumta Literary Conference (1954) were hand-processed by your father. 

When I became a teacher at the Karnataka College, I met Mr. R. M. Patil of Botany department. He had a box camera, and he let me use it often. When I left for the U.S.A. in 1962, I had no camera, and many of the great experiences are only documented in my memory. In New York, my classmate Anand Mohan Sinha had a Argus camera that he had bought for thirteen dollars, but the camera desired my company more than Anands! Another classmate Abdul Salam of East Pakistan (present day, Bangladesh) bought a Laika for thirty dollars, and I used it till he went back to his country. My friend Arun Acharya imported a Pentax camera from Japan through his friend Sinjo and I liked it a lot after taking many pictures with it. Mr. Grewal of Punjab mail-ordered a Nikon and it was a very sophisticated zoom camera. It was complicated to use, so he let me take the photographs with it rather than himself. I have taken a lot of pictures of New York for Indians there to send home with this camera. Yet another of my classmates Madan Pandila bought an used Exa camera for a price of thirty dollars with many accessories. When I took a road tour of the United States, he insisted that I take the camera with me.  In spite of all this photographic experience, can you believe that I've still not had a camera of my own?

Bill Ciesla, a friend at Syracuse, mail ordered a brand new Exacta camera and sold his old Teron to me for ten dollars. This was my first camera. The Exacta was a beautiful, rugged camera that watered my mouth. On my way back to India, I made up my mind to buy an Exacta for myself and gave the Teron to my friend Nakul, then in London. Many years later, apparently Nakul gave that camera to his brother-in-law who in turn let me use it for a family reunion. It was very funny.

I bought a brand new Exacta in Berlin (1965) from a Indian exporter B. L. Shah for 400 marks (about 500 Rupees then).  I have done most of my photography with this camera. In Ellora, it fell on the rocks, but nothing happened to it, and it shows how sturdy the camera it is. When I started scientific photography (year 1971) I imported a Minolta camera through Nakul. My sister Pushpa imported another Exacta body from America that cost me 1000 Rupees. Nakul then gifted me 400 mm tele-lens. I also bought a used Konica for 500 Rupees, a WhiteLander for 1100 Rupees, a used Pentax for 1000 Rupees, a used Exa for 2000 Rupees, a used Pentax for 13000 Rupees, and have collected quite a collection of cameras since! Then you presented me with an Exa and an Olympus and many other accessories. Most of present day photography is done using Pentax and Olympus. 

© Vikas Kamat
Kamat`s 400 mm Telelens
Kamat's 400 mm Telelens
A lens gifted to Kamat by Nakul Redkar

I often regret that I did not have any one of these cameras or tele-lenses with me when I went to Madhya Pradesh in 1976. However, I am very proud of the photography I have done without any facilities. If there was a youngster who shared my interest in photography, I would have loved to share my experience and expertise, but today's generation wants to acquire all skills overnight without hard work or dedication.

Yours affectionately,

See Also:

  • Potpourri of Pictures -- A pictorial portal to the picturesque land of India. Includes photographs of elements, portraits, women, paintings, and a Photo Blog



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