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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 08:16 GMT 09:16 UK
Where box cameras never say die
By Atul Prabhakar in Delhi

The era of people posing to have their picture taken by photographers using a large, black, wooden box may belong to the history books in most of the world.

Cameraman and subject
Box camera photos are half-the price of ones from modern cameras

But this nostalgic spectacle isn't entirely extinct.

A few old-fashioned box cameras still click away in the Indian capital, Delhi, defying the onslaught of digital photography.

And the wooden casing of these cameras is as strong as the will-power of those who rely on them for a living.

Cheap and cheerful

Ranjit Singh from west Delhi is the proud owner of one such device.

A working elephant crosses the Chitwan river for the last time that day.

"I am emotionally attached to this camera, passed down through the generations in my family," says Mr Singh.

"It doesn't make me a lot of money, but it's not easy to just stop using it."

Mr Singh says his son does not plan to carry on in his father's profession as a photographer - and he will certainly not be using the box camera.

The box camera's career, says Mr Singh, will end with his own.

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Satish Kumar, a customer of Mr Singh's, says he prefers to have his picture taken with the antiquated camera.

"This camera comes out with cheap, top quality photos - good for using on forms," said Mr Kumar.

"Why spend 50 rupees on a photo when you can make do by spending 25 rupees?"

Photos from the box camera cost less than half what is charged for photos from digital or Polaroid cameras.

Nor does it take much time to develop the picture. The only drawback is that it doesn't do colour.

Souvenir photos

Harnam Singh and his son use Polaroid and digital cameras alongside their trusty box cameras.

Street cameraman
Cameras such as this have been around for generations

Mr Singh has been working his 80-year-old box camera for 25 years.

He says there used to be a strong demand for trick photographs taken with the box camera.

Many older Indians remember these pictures as fairground souvenirs.

With the help of painted backdrops and cardboard cut-outs, the subject of the photograph would appear transported to the Taj Mahal, or rubbing shoulders with Bollywood royalty.

Today, the fairgrounds have gone, as have the crowds waiting for their picture to be taken.

There are estimated to be 25 box cameras left in Delhi.

Some can be found near tourist spots such as the Red Fort. Others linger on in the offices of the local transport authority, where they provide pictures for bus passes.

Often, the photographers who own these cameras don't know which company made them.

Not only do they perform their own repairs - they also often make their own spare parts for the cameras.

Photos are usually developed within the camera.

During the monsoon season, the prints may appear to be a little clouded because of the moisture, or because of a lack of natural light.

The threat of bad weather and bad-tempered policemen may keep the roadside photographers on their toes - but the box camera's power to provoke curiosity remains.


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