EV­ERY PHOTO ENTHUSIAST’S DREAM JOB

New Zealand D-Photo - - INSIGHT | BELLAMY HUNT -

Scour­ing Tokyo city ’s many cam­era stores for the rare and ex­pen­sive, Japan Cam­era Hunter Bel­lamy Hunt’s day job is one en­vied by many. We sat down with him at Auck­land’s Metro Gallery to find out how he made a ca­reer from col­lectible cam­eras

You’d have to be sit­ting on dial-up speed to have not stum­bled across Bel­lamy’s famed blog, Japan Cam­era Hunter; but, if you’re not fa­mil­iar, it’s a web­site ded­i­cated to Japan’s film-pho­tog­ra­phy sub­cul­ture and is the re­sult of a shared pas­sion among many for film cam­eras and ana­logue pho­tog­ra­phy as a whole. Born and raised in the UK, Bel­lamy has lived all over the world — and, as the re­sult of a se­ries of for­tu­nate events, has found him­self liv­ing in Japan for the last 12 years. The English­man ini­tially worked as a pho­tog­ra­pher, but the work wasn’t for him. “I’d been work­ing as a pho­tog­ra­pher, and I wasn’t en­joy­ing it — I didn’t en­joy be­ing told what to take pic­tures of — it didn’t suit me. You have to do this, you have to do that; I’ve never been one for con­form­ity”, Bel­lamy ex­plains. He then landed a role at a photographic dis­trib­u­tor, af­ter be­ing re­ferred by a friend, and was taken on as an arubaito [part-time em­ployee]. Though the job in­volved some pretty me­nial tasks, it taught him Ja­panese, the in­dus­try, and marked the be­gin­ning of not only a new ca­reer but also what was to be­come a life­long pas­sion. “While I was there, they said to me, ‘we have this par­tic­u­lar job that no one wants to do. Can you go out and find th­ese cam­eras for a client we have in the UK?’ Af­ter do­ing that for about two years, I re­al­ized [that] I’d be bet­ter off do­ing it my­self”, says Bel­lamy. Strik­ing the per­fect niche with a busi­ness that not only sources vin­tage and rare cam­eras but also sells film and of­fers cus­tom paint­ing of cam­eras, Japan Cam­era Hunter was born. In ret­ro­spect, “It was re­ally, re­ally life chang­ing,” he says. “[It’s been] a long jour­ney that has taken me places I never thought I’d go.”

But, in all hon­esty, the job isn’t quite as glam­orous as you’d imag­ine. Bel­lamy’s av­er­age day be­gins by sift­ing through his never-end­ing stream of emails in an at­tempt to re­ply to ev­ery­one that mes­sages him, re­gard­less of their ques­tion — and he gets some pretty silly ques­tions. Af­ter tack­ling the ad­min, Bel­lamy works through each and ev­ery or­der, sources re­quests, and stays on the look­out for cam­eras. “When you look at my In­sta­gram, you might think it’s sur­rounded by cam­eras — it’s like watch­ing some rich kids of In­sta­gram or some­thing, like mod­els and cham­pagne, ex­cept it’s cam­eras and film,” Bel­lamy laughs. “But that’s not the case at all. The first thing I do when I get up in the morn­ing is switch on the ket­tle.” And while you’d think that sourc­ing rare cam­eras would be a tough enough task in it­self, the re­cent resur­gence of ana­logue pho­tog­ra­phy paired with a shrink­ing pool of prod­ucts has made the job even tougher. But, lean­ing on a clus­ter of key re­la­tion­ships and his far-reach­ing spread of con­nec­tions, he gets the job done. “In the old days, it was me go­ing out to stores and walk­ing around a lot, and hit­ting ev­ery store ev­ery day. That’s not so much the case any­more,” Bel­lamy ex­plains. “You have to work smarter. And I have a very good re­la­tion­ship with the stores in Japan. They know me per­son­ally, so I can call them up and say, ‘do you have this?’ They know my stan­dards, so they know that if I say, ‘look, I want a Con­tax 645’, they’ll say ‘we haven’t got one for you at the mo­ment — we have got one, but it’s not what you’re look­ing for’.” When sourc­ing ob­jects of de­sire for oth­ers, it’s hard to not be en­ticed your­self, and one would ex­pect that Bel­lamy’s col­lec­tion would be the largest of all. How­ever, that’s a big mis­con­cep­tion — fun­nily enough, Bel­lamy doesn’t even col­lect cam­eras any­more. “I get to see ev­ery­thing, and I get to hold ev­ery­thing, and I re­al­ized quite some time ago that I don’t need to have those things. I stripped out my col­lec­tion, and there’s a few things that have deep per­sonal sig­nif­i­cance to me. They’re not ex­tremely valu­able, but they’re valu­able to me,” the cam­era hunter says.

His small-but-sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tion in­cludes cam­eras that he’s been gifted — one from his fa­ther, one from his fa­ther-in-law, and one from 1914 pre­sented to him by his men­tor. There’s a cam­era with his name on it, and fi­nally, his Le­ica: the first se­ri­ous cam­era that Bel­lamy bought for him­self. The lat­ter, a Le­ica MP6 that he ac­quired brand-new, was made be­fore the mod­ern MP went into pro­duc­tion. Le­ica had re­put­edly only man­u­fac­tured 400 pieces of the model, but there’s no of­fi­cial num­ber, so it’s sus­pected that only around 300 ever hit the mar­ket. Though ex­tremely valu­able, Bel­lamy’s Le­ica is by no means cod­dled: “It’s had some tus­sles; it’s been through a few scrapes, and bumps, and scratches.” The cam­era, now sport­ing all of the mark­ers of a well-loved tool, gets heav­ily, while care­fully, used. His own Le­ica MP6 isn’t the only one, ei­ther, as about 95 per cent of cam­eras that Bel­lamy sources are des­tined to be shot with. If any­thing, that’s got to prove that the fu­ture of film pho­tog­ra­phy — as Bel­lamy puts it — is very bright.

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