On the wall by the Muntri Street main entrance for The Camera Museum you will find printed: “Short cut to Chulia Street”. A cunning ploy, for who could possibly edge around the huge replica of a vintage camera straddling the entrance or cross the industrial-style gallery space hung with international or local photographer’s works; or sail past the striking mural of crouching photographers, the rainbow rays from their cameras beaming up like searchlights to an intriguing spiral staircase that leads to nowhere and not find themselves at the ticket desk instead?
Extending over the entire length of the first floor, the museum is concisely contained within five rooms that concertina back like compartments in a vintage camera. Heavy curtains hanging from each door make you feel every inch the Victorian photographer as you dip your head to enter.
The first is where the clicking, snapping, popping core of the museum lies. With hundreds of models on display, it is a veritable ode to the camera. A primary colour Lego digital marks a journey that starts in 1990 and travels back in time to the earliest camera of 1800, passing irresistibly through, to name but a few, Nikons, 1950s Yashicas, Rolleiflex, Kodak Brownies, an art deco Agfa and a supreme golden snakeskin Leica perched upon its indecently pink velvet case.
The cameras are interspersed with concise explanations of the main technological developments, as well as vintage advertisements and fun photos (Audrey Hepburn with her vintage Polaroid; early “selfies”). Kids and big kids alike will love the Bugs Bunny, Barbie and Action Man designs in the centre of the room, as well as the chance to handle and dismantle a collection of vintage cameras. If you don’t know your aperture from your elbow a knowing but unobtrusive guide will happily answer any questions.
Within the dark walls of the Camera Obscura and Pinpoint rooms the basic principles that led to the invention of photography are effectively demonstrated, while a recreated Dark Room makes the work of the pre-digital photographer with his sink, trays, tubs of developing fluid, washing line and pegs appear almost comically domestic.
Fun and fact collide in the Unique Collections room where an imposing Japanese Machine Gun camera from WWII and a display of spy cameras, the Minox no bigger than a cigar, compete with a life size 007 silhouette to pose alongside.
The wall opposite has a timeline of important dates and a succinct collection of iconic photos to linger on, before the Exit staircase leads rather temptingly down to the Double Exposure Cafe. With pasta bakes and cakes aplenty, the photography theme permeates with juices served up in camera lens cups and even film roll loo holders in the toilets.
The adjacent gift shop offers a cornucopia of camera and photography inspired souvenirs.
If you are starting to turn a darker shade of sepia you can head back out to Muntri Street and enjoy a coffee or snack at Moon Tree 47 or for the more feline friendly, the Purrfect Cat Cafe, which flank the museum.
Or why not just take that famous short cut to the bustle of Chulia Street and enjoy chicken rice at the busy local spot on the corner while congratulating yourself on not missing a well-framed, pin sharp detour through the history of the camera.
By Mark Thompson
Last updated on 29th August, 2014.