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Over half a century has passed since the appearance of the first instant camera that wowed the world, and since then almost 2,000 different models of instant cameras have been made. Rather than trying to guess the different models, I suggest leaving it to the pro, Mr. TM Wong. A veteran collector of over 1,200 instant cameras, and the World Record holder of owning the most instant cameras. On this day, TM selected a few of his “treasures” from his collection for an exhibition, and told us the stories behind the cameras. People say, a photo is worth a thousand words telling us a story, and the same could be said of the camera itself. TM is not only collecting cameras, but he is also collecting and creating his own stories too.
“I came across my first Kodak instant camera at 9 years old, all because I wanted a remote control toy car…”
A remote control toy car and an instant camera may seem unrelated to most people, but it was by chance that a store’s promotion poster “free remote control toy car with purchase of instant camera” that paved the way for TM’s love of instant cameras. TM was nine that year and instant cameras had become the latest global trend, at the time regular cameras were not something that children were able to play with. TM’s father, Mr. Wong, bought his son the instant camera for the remote control toy car. After playing with the toy car for only a few hours, it was left to the side and forgotten as soon as TM picked up the instant camera and began to snap away. The instant camera, suitable for all members of the family to use brought the Wong family fun and excitement. Photos no longer needed weeks to be developed, and TM discovered that taking pictures was fun!
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TM's first instant camera
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“I remember the first time I took an instant photo, it was of my family’s grocery store. There was a pot of peach blossoms, so I remember that it was Chinese New Year…”

It was by this chance, TM started his wonderful fate with instant cameras. During the 1990s, the Kodak camera, which had brought him and his family endless joy, was rediscovered while TM was moving. From this point onwards, his life has been surrounded by instant cameras; and to this day he is still a keen collector and user of instant cameras.
“Because it’s Christmas” TM was told by the eBay seller in Germany of the instant camera which he had originally bid a few months earlier but eventually was cancelled.
Over the past 20 years of collecting, there have been plenty of memorable cases. The camera with the most personal memories, the camera which was left by his father, and the first camera that was bought with his own hard earned money… But the most heart-warming story was one that happened over 10 years ago, when TM planned to buy a camera online. The owner lived in a small German village, but due to lack of overseas mailing knowledge and language barriers, the deal was cancelled in the end. But then over half a year later with Christmas approaching, the German seller suddenly contacted TM for his mailing address; and even without asking for any mailing fees, the camera was sent to TM as a Christmas present. TM was thrilled by this act of kindness and asked the seller why, and he only answered “Because it’s Christmas.” TM quickly returned the favor by sending over a Christmas card and present. (And of course he still needed to pay for the camera.)
Camera from Germany
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“If you saw this camera at Apliu Street, you probably wouldn’t buy this camera even if it was ten dollars. It’s heavy (over 10lbs), worn down and old, but it cost me $25,000!”
This double-lensed instant camera cost $25,000 
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These days, instant cameras cost around a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. This camera is the most expensive one bought by TM so far, it is an extremely rare double-lensed instant camera. (He estimates that there are only 100 others of this camera still left in the market.) It was bought from a mainland China website, an online forum thread that was long forgotten. The original price was RMB110,000 but after spending over half a year negotiating, TM bought it for $25,000. Unfortunately, the camera is no longer functional.
“I would describe myself as an “historian”. Photography is crucial to human history, and I feel that I have some responsibility to contribute to the history of instant cameras.”
Right now, TM is busy getting ready to publish a book about his camera collection. He feels that it is his responsibility to record and consolidate all the information and data of instant cameras in one place. He hopes that the detailed records will become handy to others who are also interested in learning more about instant cameras. 
TM's new book
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TM and LOG-ON

TM is not only generous in sharing stories behind his collection, but also the cameras themselves. He often loans his precious collection to different organizations for exhibitions.

In 2008, Polaroid ceased manufacturing films, it signified the end of era, and was a sad day for all instant camera lovers. To preserve memories of that time, LOG-ON has collaborated with TM Wong, various collectors, and fans of Polaroid to acquire stories and materials for a memorial exhibition entitled "Our Last Polaroid". TM also loaned LOG-ON over 20 Polaroid cameras and some vintage camera cases to showcase at the exhibition. In 2010 the Polaroid cameras were "reborn" by the Impossible Project. Leading LOG-ON to organize the "Instant Reborn" exhibition, displaying some of TM's collections. Because of his passion to the topic, TM dedicates his time to promote instant photography to those around him. The 2 exhibitions were a success and a memorable two weekends for many.  
"Our Last Polaroid" exhibition
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"Our Last Polaroid" exhibition
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"Instant Reborn" exhibition
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"Instant Reborn" exhibition
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Polaroid SX-70 Camera Exhibition

On the day of the interview at TM’s studio in Kwun Tong, home to his instant camera museum, he was busy preparing for the opening of his Polaroid SX-70 camera exhibition. Striving to let more people know more about instant cameras, he plans to organize guided tours for the exhibition. His effort in promoting instant photography culture is absolutely admirable. 
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Will instant photography be gone someday? It’s unknown to us all, even TM. By preserving these cameras, we are able to continue capturing some of our most treasured memories and letting the spirit of the instant camera live on. 
Special Thanks: TM Wong

Source of Images: Patrick Ng
 
 
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