Owner of the world’s largest instamatic camera collection
He owns 1,042 different instamatic cameras with a net worth of around HK$1 million. Wong Ting-man, 43, holds the world record for the largest ‘instant camera’ collection as recognised by the World Records Academy. And he just clicks with us immediatly when we meet.
“In a world overwhelmed by digital pictures, a photo that can be held in your hand is especially precious,” says Wong. “If I take a photograph of you and hand it to you right away, years later, when you look at the photo again, the memory of the moment and the excitement of receiving the photo will still be fresh.”
Among all the cameras he has collected, Wong’s most special is still his very first instamatic, a Kodak which his father bought for him, along with a remote control car, when he was eight years old. “I got bored with the car very quickly but became more and more interested and excited by the camera,” he tells Time Out. “I took a lot of instant photos but the film was expensive at that time, so my mum hid it away.” At the age of 22, when he was packing to move home, Wong found the camera again. “All my happy memories with my family and the camera came back,” he recalls, noting that his father had passed away a few years before. Wong was a graphic designer and a part-time design student at that time, which further increased his curiosity for instant cameras. Then he started to frequent the secondhand camera stores in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok looking for cheap instant cameras. With a salary of just $800, he spent $250 on his first instamatic camera, the now classic Polaroid SX-70. Yet he also bought many which were far cheaper – around $20 to $30 a piece. “It was like I couldn’t stop myself. Every time I see a cheap instant camera, I have to buy it!”
But his collecting spree really went into overdrive around 2000, when online auctions became popular. “I received packages of cameras mailed from different countries at least twice a week,” laughs Wong. “I became very familiar with the postmen!”
His activity online attracted an Austrian collector’s attention. The collector kept track of Wong’s auctions and eventually contacted him to suggest a camera exchange of the models which neither owned. “He had over 700 models and I only had 200. I was afraid of being swindled but he mailed 30 models to me first, then I mailed 10 back to him. It was exciting to know that there was someone in another part of the world having the same passion as mine,” says Wong.
At its peak, Wong bought more than 20 cameras in a week. “After Polaroid filed bankruptcy in 2001, I feared their cameras would disappear and began to collect as many Polaroid models as possible.” Then, after 2008, when Polaroid stopped producing film, Wong was prompted into another period of feverish collecting.
In 2010, he finally had a chance to visit his Mecca, the Polaroid film factory in the Netherlands. “The factory was immense and looked even more so with only a few employees remaining,” he says wistfully. “They all looked over 60 years old, but you could feel their passion for the industry. It was in the cold winter – but they were still working hard in the factory.
”Wong tells Time Out that one worker asked him if he had considered using his collection to support the instant camera industry. “That question kept reverberating in my mind,” he says. Finally he decided to quit his job in a printing company and devote himself into promoting the instant camera culture. Applying for a world record, according to Wong, is also a move for promotion.
“The rest of the world reeled when Polaroid stopped making film in 2008 but in Hong Kong there was no response. So I needed a world record to get people’s attention to instant cameras.”
Last year, Wong organised exhibitions, gave speeches and joined different forums in Hong Kong, Taiwan and in Mainland China. He is currently working on a book about instant cameras. “Many young people born in the digital era have never known an instant camera in their lives. Yet such unfamiliarity makes them more curious about them. I really wish, through exhibitions and speeches, that I can teach them the values of the instant camera and make this culture popular among them.”
For Wong, the true value of a camera is not how beautiful the photos can be, but the anticipation of waiting for the image to appear on the film – and the excitement of finally seeing something slowly come to life.