EVERY PHOTO ENTHUSIAST’S DREAM JOB
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.