For collector and entrepreneur Manny Inumerable, a collection, to be meaningful should be shared to other people this is the reason why he put up Galleria Taal in an ancestral house he has painstakingly restored to house his extensive collection of rare vintage cameras. A first of its kind in the country, this museum is set in the heritage town of Taal. Here’s our interview with Manny Inumerable:
TOF: What got you started in collecting vintage cameras? Describe the first camera you had for your collection?
Manny: I wanted to know how the camera works so I started tinkering with old cameras. I bought old non working cameras and started tinkering with it and making it work again. I got fascinated with the cameras as I bought more and more old cameras. I started with old Nikon and Canon cameras. Soon I had a collection.
TOF: Recently you traveled to France for the Nikon Historical Convention in Paris. What were the highlights of your trip to the country known as the birthplace of photography?
Manny: Meeting for the first time the Nikon Historical Society members was a great experience for me. I think I was the first Filipino to join their group. I met Bob Rotoloni, the president and founder of the NHS, and other distinguish members Cristopher Sap and Uli Koch who have written books about the early Nikon cameras. However the highlight of my trip to France was attending the Bievres Photo Fair. This is like a flea market of antique cameras some dating back to the birth of photography around 1840’s to the 1990’s. It is better than going to any other camera museums in the world. Here you see, touch and operate the antique cameras and if you had the money you can buy them. I bought 4 vintage cameras and that made my trip to France worthwhile.
TOF: Collectors have this term called “tuition fee.”It’s a kind of inherent price that beginners (for limited knowledge and little experience in collecting) pay while in the process of getting familiar with the things that they are collecting. Usually the tuition fee is experienced by beginners when buying, bidding, trading or swapping collectibles. Please describe your “tuition fee.” What is the price to possess such vintage pieces? Did it come to a point when you overspent for a particular item?
Manny: A collection is not made overnight, especially a vintage camera collection. It takes years and sometimes a lifetime. You cannot be an impulsive buyer otherwise you might get burn. You go thru a process of learning like where to buy, what to buy, which cameras are highly collectibles which are not, what is the right or ideal price for a certain piece and so on. You have to be very careful not to go over your budget. You have to get information of the world market prices for vintage cameras. Buy the Mckeown’s book of cameras. This is the bible of camera collectors. It lists more than 40,000 cameras, its history and market price.
TOF: Where do you get the items that become part of your collection? Can you describe the feeling you get when bringing home something that is sought after by other collectors?
Manny: I get them everywhere. From friends, collectors, sellers in classified ads, flea markets here and abroad, antique stores, ebay auctions, auction houses, etc.
To acquire something that is rare is like owning a treasure. But it gives me more meaning as a collector if I can share this to other people for them to see and appreciate. This is why I made Galleria Taal , where I can show this to other people so that they may learn from what I learned.
TOF: As a collector, do you collect for pleasure or for investment?
Manny: Both. I find pleasure in buying old vintage cameras, restoring them, making them work and using them to take photos like the old days. When I started the collection I never thought about this being an investment venture, but I realize that the prices of these antique camera are getting higher thru the years. So now it has become an investment and maybe a business venture in the future.
TOF: To date, how extensive is your collection? What is your most favorite piece?
Manny: I have in my log book about 170 cameras. My favorite is the 8×10 Century Studio Camera (c1900) which is the center piece and the biggest camera in the collection at Galleria Taal.
TOF: With over a hundred items on display at Galleria Taal, what else do you want to have? Is the collection finished? Do you think collecting vintage camera as an addiction for you? When do you think you will stop collecting?
Manny: When I first thought about having a camera museum, I thought about having it in Manila in a mall or in a historic place like Intramuros. But I did not have the resources to rent a place for my museum so I thought about our ancestral house in Taal and make it into a camera museum and a photo gallery of Philippine antiquarian photographs. This was March 2010 when we first opened Galleria Taal and now people are going to Taal just to see the camera museum.
I would want to be able to air-conditioned the house to protect the cameras from humidity and for the visitors to be comfortable in viewing the cameras. Maybe in the future I would want a camera museum in Manila. There are more cameras in my house that are just waiting to be displayed but cannot be accommodated in Galleria Taal. When will I stop, I don’t know, maybe when I’m dead.
TOF: As a veteran collector, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned? What tips can you share to those who are starting their own collection, not necessarily vintage cameras but becoming a collector of tangible things, in general?
Manny: For me, a collection, to be meaningful, should be shared to other people. If you keep it to yourself then you deprive yourself the respect you can gain from your passion and the knowledge other people could acquire from your collections.
TOF: If you’re not collecting vintage cameras, what are you collecting?
Manny: When I was a young boy I collected stamps and old coins. I still have those collections. I like old things like vintage radios and phonographs but I don’t have a collection of those yet. I really cannot say if I will start another collection.
TOF: What made you decide to open your vintage camera collection to the public?
Manny: I first opened my camera collection to the public when I became the chairman of Photoworld Asia, a trade exhibition in Glorietta, in January 2010. I wanted something knew and different in the exhibitions aside from the normal photo exhibits that are displayed during the event. It became a hit during the one week exhibition with many visitors seeing the collection. After that I thought about displaying it permanently in a museum. But since there was no camera museum in the country so I decided to make one.
TOF: Who influenced you to put up this vintage camera and photography museum?
Manny: This was purely my own initiative but I got a lot of help from photo collectors who allowed me to use their collection of antiquarian photos to be displayed like John Silva, John Terrell, and Sonny Camarillo.
TOF: The vintage camera and photography museum is housed in the Ilagan-Barrion ancestral house. Please tell us a something about the house. How are you related to the original owners of the house? What are the challenges in restoring and maintaining an ancestral house?
Manny: The Ilagan -Barrion house was built circa 1870 by my great grand parents, Domingo Ilagan and Maria Martinez (who both died in 1903). They had six children but Candida, my grandmother, paid off her siblings to gain sole ownership. Candida who married Antonino Barrion, a lawyer and a delegate to the 1935 Constitutional Convention representing the 3rd district of Batangas, had three daughters, Nellie B. Inumerable, Corazon B. Rodriquez and Charito B. Ahorro. They moved to this house in 1944 after their conjugal home in Batangas City was burned down during the Japanese occupation. Candida lived in this beautiful house and was their home until she passed away in 1975. The house had been totally neglected for several years after her death. It deteriorated very badly thru the years and became an eye sore in its neighborhood of old houses in Taal.
In 2004, I initiated the restoration of the house with the help of my brother Bobby Inumerable. The ceiling of the entire house was replaced with new ceiling boards and extensive roof repairs were done to prevent water leaks. All the existing paint was scraped from the wooden walls and windows. New capiz shells for the sliding windows were purchased to replace the old ones. Half of the stair ballusters were missing and had to be replaced. Main wooden girders that supported the floor were replaced due to termite infestations. The toilets and kitchen that were installed later by the occupants of the house were removed.
For more than a year, my brother and I would go almost every week to Taal to supervised the restoration until our limited resources ran out. By the end of 2005, the house was 90% restored but for the next 5 year it was unoccupied except for a caretaker to clean the house. In March 2010, it became an exhibition venue for photography and the arts named as Galleria Taal.
TOF: Galleria Taal is the first vintage camera museum in the country. What else can we expect from Galleria Taal in the future?
Manny: We shall continue improving the place and the display cabinets. The cameras will change from time to time, new pieces will be displayed. More literature write ups about camera history will be put up. We plan to put up a coffee area where visitors can rest and have coffee and merienda and even lunch. Right now we cater to groups who would like to have lunch in Galleria Taal by appointment. We also have now a souvenir shop where we sell souvenirs of Galleria Taal. If you want to see the museum you can check our website at www.galleriataal.com and make your appointments for dining or visiting our museum.
-Feast of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel 2012