Dhruv is experimenting with a Agfa Billy-Clack 51 that was handed down to his mother from her grandmother. Four generations in the family have put this camera to use in some way or the other. Agfa manufactured the Billy-Clacks between 1934 and 1940, but I presume these were not available in India until the mid 1950s because that’s when this camera was purchased fresh off the shelf. The retailer was GK Vale in Chennai, considered both the avant-grade and the godfather of retail and studio photography in South India since 1910.
This camera accepts 120mm film and is fully manually/mechanically operated with no metering assistance. And with its bellows retracted, the camera transforms into a compact box that can fit snugly into a back pocket. We loaded an Ilford HP5+ film and started figuring out the nitty gritty of the camera as we took pictures. As a result of this on-the-go learning we ended up wasting 9 out of the 16 film exposures. It was a nice experience to hold and use an elegant piece of engineering from a different era. The only drawback was that we ended up with pictures having a lot of black spots. This was because of loose paint that go deposited on the film as we wound it to position. But overall the camera works fine for something that was probably made during the second world war. Both the photographs below were shot by the Billy-Clack 51.
One very interesting aspect about this camera is that it has three lenses. There is two viewing lenses, one for portrait and the other for landscape orientation. The third main lens is the actual taking or image capturing lens. The camera is like a sudo point-to-shoot camera, this is considering its fixed focus, fixed shutter speed (at approximately 1/30th of a second) and just three aperture settings – f8.8, f11 and f16. Another interesting component is a selector lever to switch between bulb and normal shooting.
Some photographs from the MadrasRelics studio
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