The Big Question

Why do we Collect Cameras?

then we’ll discuss something simple like “What is Art?”

Do you ever wonder why you collect something? When I look at the 400 plus cameras I have acquired I certainly question it. My wife does not however. She feels it is simply evidence that I live in cuckoo land. What is this strange compulsion to buy one more camera when I already have so many?

I know that collector friends of mine certainly question it. It is generally agreed by the camera collectors that I know that this conduct makes no sense.

Before we delve into the question, we have to look at what constitutes a ‘collection’. Not every room full of stuff is a collection. There are people who just don’t like to dispose of anything be it books, magazines, newspapers, old clocks, the list is endless. They are hoarders. They have no particular knowledge of or interest in any of the items they have accumulated. They just can’t stand the thought of throwing anything away. That is hoarding and it is a recognized personality disorder.

That’s me at my table at a camera show. Camera shows are fun because you get to spend a morning with people who appreciate the same things you do. Often such people are hard to come by!

I answered an ad once for a “collection” of point and shoot cameras. But when I arrived I was greeted with a yard full of boxes of tools, books, various pieces of furniture, used clothing, and to one side was a cardboard carton of fifteen or twenty cameras. They were thrown in with no order, no concern for any damage this treatment might cause, with no apparent theme or thought. It was not a collection. It was just a box of cameras.

A “collection” is more. But, more what?  Beside being an assortment of usually similar items, there is a theme or purposeful organization that indicates an interest in a subject. It might be five items or five hundred but they will have a theme. They will indicate an interest the owner has in the items and their category generally. For instance, my cameras are, for the most part, by Canon and they can be grouped into families of models or organized by date or by historical development. Not only do I have the cameras but I read about them, study their operation, and try to inform myself about them.

Art Vancouver 2022

Another joy of collecting cameras is the enjoyment of the photography of others and going to art shows where you get to talk to the artists. Without exception they are great people to talk to.

Now I maybe go further than most collectors. A person might just have five beautiful top line Nikon cameras that he loves and shoots with. That is a collection at the other end of the spectrum. But it is still a “collection”. The owner enjoys his five cameras and finds great pleasure in their use.

And a collection is not related to value. A person can have a collection of matchbook covers from a certain period or city. No value at all and yet the owner may find great pleasure in them. They are a collection. A person might own several Brownie Hawkeye cameras and accessories worth only a few hundred dollars. But he finds pleasure in them, he knows their history, and maybe he even tries to take pictures with them. He too is a collector.

Having said that, between the two extremes there is a grey area where hoarding blends into collecting. I can feel the temptation to hoarding every time I sell a camera. It is

difficult to give up a ‘precious’. And that is a trap that we have to guard against.

Having established what we are talking about, we are left with the question of why we collect? No one needs their collection yet we spend time, energy, and money on it. Usually collections serve no outward purpose other than the fact that they bring pleasure. We are not unusual. It is estimated that 30 to 40% of people collect something at some level. But when we try to find an underlying reason for this activity we find it is not easy to categorize. The reasons can be subtle or simple, they can be combined, and there are gradations.

Canon S 100m f4 Serenar Lens

As a collector there is pleasure in simply holding a fine camera. And if you can take it out and use it all the better.

I could not find a name for camera collectors. Coin collectors are “numismatists” and stamp collectors are “philatelists” and there are dozens of other names for certain types of collectors. However, I could not find any names for camera collectors. So that we are no less important than stamp collectors we must have a name! I shall create my own: camera collectors are henceforth to be known as “camerologists” and camera collecting generally is to be known as “camerology”. Now I feel better and I am sure you do as well.

Searching for reasons why people become camerologists  I have found several which may or may not apply in every case. It is simple to say that collecting is just fun. I know because I can sit by myself with my cameras and be totally content as the hours pass by. It is extremely pleasurable to me. But that does not answer the why. In my searching for answers I have found several possible factors.

Reason 1 – Sentimental attachment. I can attest personally to this one. I have acquired copies of the cameras I used as a youth but have lost track of. I have a Brownie Hawk Eye, several actually, which was my first ever camera when I was ten. I have a Yashica A which my father had when I was a teenager.  I have my original Minolta A2, which I used in High School and on my first trip to Europe. I have the Minolta SR-1 which I bought in University and used until I went digital in the 1990’s. They remind me of my youth and my early days in photography and they bring back happy memories. So, yes, I agree with sentimental attachment as a factor.

Reason 2 – Interest in a subject. This also is true for me. I have always loved machinery: engines, watches, firearms, anything that is precision made and has moving parts. And so an interest in cameras fits very neatly into this category. I remember as a child taking my Brownie Hawk Eye apart and examining the lens and the shutter mechanism. I would use the lens to focus the sun and burn holes in paper. I would then put it back together and just enjoy the sound of the shutter. Yes, I like the sound of the shutter. That actually might be a separate reason!

Reason 3 – The pleasure that a collection brings. Well, I found it listed as a reason for collecting but, as I said above, I am not sure it explains anything. Yes, I enjoy my cameras. But that does not answer the ‘why’?

Reason 4 – Investment is often cited as a reason. This makes me think of those who spend huge sums on artwork hoping to make a profit. That has never been a factor for me but I do watch camera prices and I can see the increase in the value of my collection. So it is not a major factor for me but one I am certainly aware of. I know there are those who view collecting as an investment.

Reason 5 – Participation in a community of like minded people. There is a social aspect to collecting for those wish to participate in it. Like most hobbies, there are clubs, trade shows, meetings. It is easy to talk to people who have similar interests and you always have something to say.

Part of participation is the contribution collecting makes to marital bliss (actually I could do a whole article on that subject). My beloved enjoys going to second hand stores, flea markets, auctions and yard sales. I enjoy going with her because I can look for cameras. You see, matrimonial harmony.

Reason 6 – Recognition and prestige. I imagine this is a thing but not for me. I imagine if I owned the original prototype of the first Canon camera, which would be worth … well, a lot, I would feel differently.

Reason 7 – Thrill of the hunt. I have already referred to this. I love to prowl second hand and thrift shops for cameras, camera gear and books. It is always fun to find something unexpected, especially if it is a bargain.

All of the discussions about collecting I have found skirt this issue somewhat. There seem to be no hard and fast reasons why we collect that anyone is willing to stand by. I have identified some of the reasons I collect but I am sure there are others. There are discussions on-line about the psychological basis for hoarding or collecting but there seem to be no hard fast reasons that I can find. That is unsatisfactory when you want to understand something. I guess it is a little bit like defining art: it depends who you talk to.

I did find a quote by a Susan M. Pearce of University of Leicester which, in part reads “…But collecting is too complex and too human an activity to be dealt with summarily by way of definitions.” I think that about sums it up.

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