An interview with Japan Camera Hunter
Date: 2014 July 9th Wednesday [14:15] | Posted By: Joe
Normally on Otaku News, when we talk about otaku we mean fans of anime and manga. There are plenty of other areas worth exploring. Today, we'll introduce you to someone who loves cameras.
With the world going increasingly more digital, the photography scene around the world is seeing a resurgence of film and there is a demand among amateur and professional photographers alike for good film cameras. Film photographers enjoy the tangible nature of the photos and the fact that film slows the whole process down. Developing the picture is something to look forward to, it doesn't give instant gratification like a digital camera.
Certain cameras are now regarded as classics of their era. Japan is the natural place to go if you want a nice film camera because the country is ubiquitous for photography and cameras with so many camera brands being Japanese. While in other countries things are going on-line, physical camera shops both for new and second hand goods are a thriving business.
Bellamy Hunt lives in Tokyo. He runs a website called Japan Camera Hunter. He's passionate about photography and film. If you want a decent camera sourced from Japan, he's your man.
Our editor Joe caught up with him over a coffee in Shinjuku.
How did you end up in Japan?
I was travelling around the world, met a girl and she said come to Japan. I said "yeah alright". I ended up staying. She went her separate way, I went my separate way. I ended up finding my true calling here.
What appeals to you about photography and cameras?
Photography is capturing the moment and also the way a person's character sees something. Everybody is different. I like capturing those moments. I like trying to represent in an image what I think I see.
For cameras it's the mechanics, the way they work, everything! The optics. The industrial design. The beauty especially of older cameras. Now a days everything is so easy. They can do everything. But in those days they had to work their way around very difficult problems with light, weight and materials. It's fascinating to see how they did that. So I could geek out about cameras all day long!
Do you run Japan Camera Hunter as a full time business?
Yes, Japan Camera Hunter is my full time business. Not only sourcing cameras, but selling my own products, film cases, promoting film. Running the website, running interviews and I also work as a buyer for other people. It's more than a full time job.
What's the hardest camera you've had to source?
It's funny, because that's an interesting question. Most people would assume it's the rarest camera that you've had to source. Actually the rarest camera I've had to source just fell into my lap. It really didn't have to do anything for it. That was a very, very limited early edition Leica Olive M3, which was a military model, which there are not many of. This was in absolutely flawless condition which there are almost none of. It so happened the timing was right. One guy I knew had it for sale. The other guy I knew wanted to buy one. It was there.
The most difficult ones, I've had to go to America to source a camera. I've had to go to the Philippines. In terms of energy invested in getting them, those are the hardest. Having to fly halfway across the world, having made payment for quite a large amount of money not knowing if it's going to be right. Or if there's going to be an issue or something like that. That can be very stressful.
Thinking about it, the hardest camera has been a $50 camera. If I get a camera for a customer I want them to have the right camera and I want it to work. I want them to be happy. The first one broke, so I got him another one, and the second one broke. So I got him another one and third one broke! So I got him another one and I was like, "I'm going to get you a damn working camera if it kills me!". I ending up getting four cameras which cost me way more than what he paid me initially, but it's the principal of the matter. That's what he paid for and that's what he wanted. It was my responsibility to give him one. Which we did in the end.
Which camera was it? Or don't you want to say in case other people want to order them?
Yeah! I never want to order another one of those EVER again.
What's the camera you haven't managed to source but want to?
Oh, there's loads. There's lots and lots and lots. I would very much like to get my hands on an original MP Leica. I was so close to buying one, I missed out, I didn't really understand what I was looking at. At the time I thought it couldn't really be that good, I kicked myself for not taking it. I don't think I'll see another one in that price range in my life.
There's a few lenses and rare cameras. I'd do anything to buy those. Mainly Leicas, all sorts of odd Nikon stuff too. It's a constant search. You're always finding something new to chase after. It doesn't necessarily have to be really high end expensive stuff as well. You can find just really unusual versions of small cameras, of older cameras that people don't think about, which is pretty cool.
What's the most expensive camera you've had to source?
The most expensive one I didn't source, I brokered because I didn't really want to go all the way to get it. So I brokered the deal instead. That was €65,000. That was quite a rare Leica. I've done a few cameras in that area, you know that sort of price range. That was the most expensive. It's only going up. I'm fully aware that I'll probably do something bigger sooner or later. The big boys, the real big guys in this business, you're talking $500,000 to a $1,000,000 cameras. Hopefully I will be there someday.
What about the most popular cameras?
Oh, easy peasy! Contax T2, Leica M6, Contax T3, Ricoh GR1s, Ricoh GR1v, just all day long! As quicklyas I can get them people will take them. They want them. They're in good condition here. They're clean, they're a fair price. I always make sure I check everything before I sell it. So people can have the peace of mind that if they're getting it from me it's going to work. It's not going to crap out on them. And if it does, I'll take care of it.
What do you like about living in Japan?
That's a difficult question as in recent times there are not so many things I like about living in Japan. With the changes in democratic ruling and so on and so forth, it's quite unpleasant. Having said that, it's a safe country. It's a clean country. The food is excellent. I can do whatever I need to do and want to do. I can run my business. What I like about Japan is the cameras, the business. I'm a country boy. I'd rather live in the country side, if I could.
The Japanese countryside?
Japanese, British, anywhere really. I don't mind. Just somewhere where it's peaceful! But I can't really just quit my job sadly.
Are you surprised that film photography is still popular?
No, not at all. I'm surprised it's not more popular with the advent of Instagram and things like this. The younger generation who maybe didn't experience film going "wow, what's this? Wait, you can actually do printed pictures like this?!" It has seen a small amount of traction. Young people are still into it. It's still very popular.
People need to stop complaining that film's dying and things like that and just get on with shooting. We will lose some films, but that's inevitable . At the same time it's going to evolve. Vinyl sales have actually risen to levels much higher than they were 20 years ago. I'm hoping we're going to see a similar renaissance with film in the coming years. We're working hard to make sure it does happen.
What's the most fun in your bag you've had on your website?
There's been some pretty awesome ones. There's been the violin case, which had cameras inside,like a hit man, because he was worried about getting mugged!
Well it could have had a Stradivarius inside?!
There was a military case. I've seen just a Tesco's shopping bag, except the shopping bag had a $5,000 camera inside of it. He didn't care, no airs or graces.
Then I've seen massive elaborate ones. I have my favourites, I've been asked to do a book about them. One day maybe I'll put my favourites into a book. We're nearly on 1,000. I've got about 90 to go. That's going to be pretty cool.
Have you got anything to say to Otaku News readers who are familiar with in photography, but might be interested in the more Japanese aspects of it?
Yeah, come and check out my site. For Japanese photography, check out Jesse's book reviews. He does book reviews every week, or as often as I can put them up of Japanese photography. There's a huge and very complex photography scene that's been going on here for a very long time. There's very conceptual street photography. It's got a very long tradition in Japan. There's a whole lifestyle of it based around it here. There's galleries everywhere. You see people walking around with film cameras a lot. It's a really cool Japan to see. Especially for people who are interested in Japan to actually see Japanese society portrayed in real photographs instead of the media view that is often quite skewed. You know "Hey look how wacky Japan is". "Oh aren't they bizarre with their..." whatever. But it's not actually like that, a lot of that stuff is misinformation or mistranslation. See photographers like Masahisa Fukase or Moriyama and so many other photographers and you see their work and you get to see what Japan really is like. Once you've been here a while and you look at their photographs you recognise parts of the way they think. The Japanese psyche comes through in photography. That's a really interesting thing to see. You can see those on my website. There's also guides for if you're here were to go shopping. There's a lot to do, a lot to see.
Thank you for your time Bellamy!
You can read more about Bellamy's camera hunting adventures on his own website Japan Camera Hunter. Be warned, reading might give you the desire the indulge in some gadget lust and buy a film camera from him.
All images in this article are from Japan Camera Hunter and used with permission.