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    Vageeswari Camera

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    Invented in the 1940s, the Vageeswari Camera is an Indian-made large format field camera designed by K Karunakaran, a technician from Alleppey (now Alappuzha), Kerala. He went on to design eight variants of this camera, including a small format variant that could be used to create passport-size images.

    The idea for the camera came about in 1942, when a local photo studio owner approached Karunakaran’s father, a musician and instrument repair person, to fix the bellows of his foreign-made camera. Impressed by his skills, the studio owner suggested that he attempt building a camera himself, a proposition that Karunakaran took up instead. The device he built was entirely handcrafted — from its teak frame to the brass clips — except for the lens which was imported from Germany. The camera soon became popular among Indian and foreign practitioners, with demand for the camera reportedly increasing to over 100 cameras per month.

    Following the success of the cameras, Karunakaran set up a store in Mullakal, Alappuzha in 1945, from where he produced and sold them. Karunakaran passed away in Alappuzha in 2016.

    The camera’s history has seen some renewed attention in recent years, notably in the Lokame Tharavadu exhibition at Alappuzha in 2021, where photographs and working Vageeswari cameras were displayed by photographer Anu John David.



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