Surinder clicks photos. (Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal)

Surinder clicks photos. (Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal)

In an intensely digitized world, many age-old techniques have been forgotten.

But today in Rajasthan, one man is using what he says is the oldest camera in the world. 

Our reporter Jasvinder Seghal, tracks him down in Jaipur, India. 

Here in Jaipur, nearby the Palace of Winds – an ancient, terracotta-colored palace – Surender Kumar is clicking away on his antique camera.

The palace is a five-stories high and from the outside it looks like honeycomb – with 953 small windows from which the women of the royal court would watch the street festivals 

Surender’s grandfather was a royal photographer for the king of Jaipur. He often worked in the royal garden, spread across 33 acres of land, about a mile from this spot. 

That’s Surender, calling out to nearby tourists…

The camera, he tells them, is a special German-make – bearing the Carl Zeiss brand and was produced in 1860.

The camera looks just like the cameras from the turn of the century, complete with a black cloth covering the back.

“This camera is like a wooden box. It has lens in the front and a window at the back. It has everything rolled into one,” he says, “You can see the camera has a mini dark room too. The darkroom, fixer, developer and film box is all inside this 20-kg apparatus and all the chemicals are kept in the camera. ”

The camera used by his grandfather was passed down to Surender’s father, before finally being gifted to Surender and his brother.

Although Surender appreciates digital cameras, he treasures his heirloom, a piece of photographic and family history. 

“Old is Gold,” he exclaims, “Digital cameras can’t be compared with my heritage camera. The present is okay but the people should not forget their history.”

Surinder’s camera’s functions almost like an antique polaroid. He can develop black and white photos on the spot, but it takes about five minutes. The problem he says is finding the chemicals, which he sources in the old city.

As well as preserving this antique photographic instrument, Surinder also earns his livelihood from the camera. 

No easy task, he admits.

“I earn only US$2-6 per day. It is very difficult to earn from the camera. Only foreign tourists love this camera but their number is decreasing rapidly,” he says, “The Indians don’t like this camera as they are inclined towards digital cameras. Earlier the local nationals used to come for photographs for their passport and other application forms.”

Surender’s unique camera stands on an old rickety, wooden tripod. 

The unique shape attracts passersby, yet only a few of them end up being paying customers.

But 35-year-old Sudarshan Kaur from Punjab is one of them. 

“Off course I like it. I haven’t seen it before. It looks like that we are in olden times, I want this, and actually this is India. This is the heritage of India. The picture quality is very good,” he says. 

Vijay Goel, a 27-year-old fashion photographer from Mumbai has come to see the camera with his two friends.

He is impressed with the old technique used by Surender. 

“In today’s world it is hard to find such a person who is still using this old camera, carrying on the traditions, feels good. He has taken one picture of us,” he says, “We are actually planning to develop three copies of it and will keep them for our lifetime.” 

Surender’s antique camera is partly famous outside Jaipur too.

It has been featured in Hindi films such as Shudh Desi Romance, Bhool Bhulaiyan, Sherkhan and Ek Tha Tiger.

And while Surender and his brother are still around, their treasured camera, they say, will keep on. 


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