Thursday, June 19, 2014

Galleria Taal: Philippines' First Vintage Camera Museum

Galleria Taal

Galleria Taal is the Philippines' first ever vintage camera museum located in the historic heritage town of Taal, Batangas. This treasure trove of glass, metal and film serves as a testament to one collector's love for mastering light and preserving memories. Find out more on my blog post below:

On cobble stone road, in a sleepy little town that time forgot, sits an ark. It is predominantly made of stately hard wood (as all arks should) but also carries sturdy stone in its body, fit for any flood of water or heat that seeks to destroy its precious cargo. Although it does not carry a menagerie of animals like the proverbial ark of Noah, what it does carry is a collection of vintage cameras that are in danger of being washed away in the deluge that is the new age of digital photography.

I see the Gallera Taal as exactly what was described above. An 'ark' that wants to preserve what has been made to preserve. Here in this wood and stone ancestral house lies a treasure of precious metal camera bodies, multicolored glass lenses that sparkle brighter than the stars, and even gold and silver body plates attached to the even more precious optical system housed within.

Now aside from all the fluff that I have written above (I wanted to pay homage to this wonderful shrine of light) the Galleria Taal is 'the first and foremost vintage camera museum in the Philippines that houses Mr. Manny Inumerables (I'm pretty sure his family name says something about his collection. Endless!) collection of rare cameras from the late 1800's to the 1900's'.

This collection, as the name of the proprietor foreshadows, is innumerable! I was astounded by the number and types of cameras that Mr. Manny collected, and stored in his family's old ancestral house (which he restored for the conversion into this museum). There must have been something like a hundred different cameras during our visit there. And these weren't your average everyday cameras that you might find rusting away at flea markets, oh no, this was the collection of someone that extended painstaking effort in tracking down rare pieces of glass and shutters and having them restored to the closest they could get to their former beauty.

(I apologize if some of the camera jargon I write about in the succeeding paragraphs are wrong or inaccurate. It has been some time since the actual tour and what was learned, has now been forgotten.)  

The museum tells the story of the camera. From its birth large wooden pin hole cameras with bellows to the shiny all mechanical beasts that our grandfathers wielded in their time. All the important personas in this story of the camera are punctually present in the museum with apt accompanying descriptions printed out in white laminated paper next to the piece telling a little back story to the most important of players.

One would not expect that a old stately house like this (pictured below) would contain treasure within. Actually, the house in itself has quite a bit of history attached to it. This house used to be the ancestral home of the owners parents. It was built in the 1870's, housed a couple of generations of the owners family, burned by the Japanese in the 1940's, repopulated in the 1950's, but abandoned in the 1980's and then finally restored and converted into the museum you see before you in the early 2000's.

The house still retains it's colonial era look with its capiz windows, large iron grills, wooden interiors and concrete foundations. It was a beautiful house, but I was more interested with its contents.

The collection is huge and rare. Compare it, let's say, to the sasquatch. But even more valuable once put on display. (Okay, imagine capturing the sasquatch, dipping him in gold and placing him in a glass case. That's what you get here.)

As I said earlier, it tells the story of how the camera evolved through out the years.If you're lucky and Mr. Inumerable or a competent guide is available he will be more capable than I to explain to you the different cameras in each case and the specific feature that some ingenious inventor introduced to the field of optics.

(My only complaint is that during the first time we visit the Galleria Taal, an incompetent cashier/guide was on her shift. She simply added our names to the register and left us to our own devices. We didn't get a single explanation as to how the collection came to be or what each camera's specialty was. That's why we had to come back a second time, and we were not disappointed because the guide that took care of us was more than capable of answering our many questions. Her name escapes me though. Bad blogging right here.)

Let me show you some of the cameras that caught my eye. (Again, I apologize if i forgot the particular stories behind each camera. This blog post has been on the back burner for some time.)

This Canon camera looks as if though it is actually a gun with extra magazines. But in reality, I think they are just extra film cannisters that allow the user to take more pictures. But I could be wrong. 

Each camera is kept in a supposedly air tight and humidity controlled enclosure. Remember, humidity is the number one cause of camera storage problems since the high humidity in this archipelago of ours induces the growth of fungal spores that can attach themselves to the glass elements of our cameras (lenses mostly) and slowly eat away at the material causing a degradation of image quality.

This camera holds special meaning to me.  It is a Nikon F2 AS, this is more or less the same model as the camera that my uncle passed down to my father, and then my father to me. It was made in 1979 and served as my uncle's work horse camera for sometime. It was a top of the line camera during its time and has an all mechanical body. Cameras of today (DSLRs) are mostly comprised of plastic parts and electrical circuitry to keep up with todays technology. Although well and good, this means that they do not last as long as all mechanical cameras. Mechanical cameras have been known to suffer as much abuse as their owners can give them and this is one reason why I was able to have my uncles' all mechanical camera restored and fixed in order for me to use. 

This in the other hand is a Nikon F3/T. Why I took a picture of this is because it has some significance to me since this was the camera used in the movie 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'. In the movie, Sean Penn's character (a professional photographer) is seen photographing a rare mountain lion with the Nikon F3/T (means its body is made of titanium!!!). 

What surprised me is that you can also call in advance and reserve a dining room at the museum for you and your group in order to dine Filipino style inside the museum. (Dining area pictured above.)

Now this bad boy below is a Nikon camera PLATED IN GOLD with.... wait for it.... SNAKE SKIN as a replacement for leather. Wow. Serious bling and swag right there. Oh excuse me miss, can I take a picture of you with my golden camera swathed in snake skin? Now let's see if you don't get a photo with someone's eyes bulging out of their skulls with that one.

The also have a respectable collection of Leicas which are the holy grails of any sane persons vintage camera collection (well in my opinion anyway.)

The museum is also home to old vintage photographs of Manila. Here is one that caught my attention the most. This is of a BULL FIGHT IN MANILA. I didn't know that we had those before! I wish I could experience a Bull Run like they do in Pamplona. If they had it here, it would be in a maze of cars along EDSA during rush hour. Imagine the carnage, imagine the fun! 

I truly regret forgetting most of what our helpful guide told us that day. Maybe that means I need to go back in order to take down notes for more random photography information to be put on the blog hehe

But anyway, any photographer or person for that matter that has an interest in photography will greatly appreciate this effort to preserve our art. I salute Mr. Inumerable and his effort in preserving something that we are slowly seeing less and less of. With the advent of the digital age of photography, I just hope that this vintage ark stands fast in the onslaught of the current.

If you guys still have time after visiting the museum, try taking pictures of the St. Martin De Tours Basilica which is the largest Catholic church in Asia (according to some). Here it is pictured below in the sunlight of the setting day.

Galleria Taal Details:

Address: 60 Agoncillio Street, Heritage Town of Taal, Batangas City, Philippines

Address Notes: At 120km South from Manila, this museum is about a 2 hour drive from the Metro via SLEX. (You can get there via a Tagaytay City route) Once you get to Taal, take the main road (Agoncilio Street) heading downwards towards Taal Lake.(I think the road is called the Taal-San Nicolas Road in Google Maps.) Once along that path, after 5 minutes, you will see an overhanging sign below and it is then that you will know you have arrived at your destination. (It is on the left side of the street if you are facing the lake)


Parking: There is parking in a large open lot to the right of the museum.


Operating Hours: Monday to Sunday - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Telephone Number: (043) 408 1775

Proprietor: Manny Inumerable


Mobile: 09189124051

Entrance Fee: 100 Pesos


1. Museum is camera friendly (DUH). Just don't use flash.

2. Museum is not air conditioned. It can get pretty hot in Taal. Take precautions.

3. Parking area is right beside the museum and can fit around 5 cars.

4. There is a mini souvenir shop below the museum.

5. Taal is also considered to be the Balisong (butterfly knife) capital of the Philippines. You can buy Balisongs along the road leading in to Taal.

6. You must try the Taal Tapa. You can get it at almost any known restaurant in Taal.