This site is not affiliated with Eastman Kodak.
The most important cardboard box ever?
BBC NEWS MAGAZINE -
It doesn't look very exciting -
Brownies became a mass-
Gary Cole photographed this tree using a Brownie and infra-
Bert Hardy captured two Tiller Girls using a Brownie in Blackpool in 1951
Hubert Berry Ottaway
Before it appeared in 1900, cameras were distinctly unwieldy, if not downright cumbersome. Early cameras tended to be made of a great deal of brass and mahogany and took pictures on to large glass or metal plates, often requiring exposure times measured in minutes.
To photograph far-
US inventor George Eastman took an important step forward in the 1880s, when he popularised a flexible film that did away with the need for weighty plates. His first "Kodak Camera" went on sale in 1888, pre-
It was an uncomplicated box but it cost $25 -
The revolution came 12 years later. The Kodak Brownie, designed by Edward Brownell, looked similar to the original Kodak, but the film could be taken out of the camera after shooting and developed via Kodak stockists, chemists or even at home.
And Kodak sold the camera for the princely sum of $1 -
"The Brownie democratised photography simply through the sheer volume of sales," says Dr Michael Pritchard, president of the Royal Photographic Society and the author of The History of Photography in 50 Cameras, published in November.
"A $1 or 25-
The Brownie was also supported with a range of accessories from albums to home processing kits, which helped convey the idea that photography was something for anyone. "Competitions and clubs for Brownie and Kodak users also reinforced this sense with the general public," Pritchard says.
Brownies were aimed at children, among others. "Plant the Brownie acorn and the Kodak oak will grow," one slogan went. The camera's boxes were adorned with a cartoonish character, created by Canadian illustrator Palmer Cox.
The stroke of genius behind the Brownie was that Kodak was essentially a film-
Brownies were simple and sturdy. They were designed to accompany people on their daily lives -
There was a tendency with the first Brownies for the back door to flip open at the wrong moment, which led to the first of many modifications.
The No.2 Brownie, released 18 months later, used a slightly different film format -
One photography enthusiast who still uses them is Gary Cole. "I was looking at images I had shot with my 'do-
It takes time to get used to the Brownie's limitations, Cole says.
"The shutter of the Brownie is somewhere between 1/25th to 1/30th of a second so you have to be sure to hold the camera steady. I do tend to take more time to compose my shots no matter what type of film camera I'm using. The Brownie is not a camera you're going to be blazing away at 10 frames a second with."
Gordon Lyster, another photographer who uses them, agrees that the lack of automation leads to more considered photography.
"Including processing, it's basically £1 each time you click the shutter," he says. "Because you don't just click, click, click away, you actually seem to end up with a much higher ratio of useable photos than when shooting digital."
There is a paradox here. A century ago, the Brownie singlehandedly gave rise to the idea of the snapshot -
Photography became an everyday activity. Normal life could be pictured, instead of the carefully posed dioramas that required subjects to stay unnaturally still.
Along the way, Brownies were there when history happened. In 1912, 17-
Brownies also went to war. The cameras were small and light enough to fit in a soldier's pack, and pictures taken on Brownies -
Earlier this year, the pictures taken by one British soldier, Hubert Berry Ottaway, were found by his grandson in a loft and developed, providing a fascinating glimpse of the life of an ordinary serviceman on the Western Front a century ago.
One of the UK's most celebrated photographers Bert Hardy took a series of famous shots on a Brownie in the 1940s and 50s, Pritchard points out, proving that a great photographer does not need the latest equipment to take great photographs.
"The Brownie" went on to be a badge sported on nearly 100 different camera models. Some were folding cameras, some were art deco designs, some were even movie cameras. Brownies lost the boxy shape and the leatherette, favouring sleeker designs, Bakelite and plastic. The last of them rolled off Kodak's production lines in the 1980s.
"The Brownie range became the best selling camera range of all time and the name is part of popular culture even though it has not been used on a camera from some 35 years," says Pritchard. His book points out that the word "Brownie" is still used among photographers to describe a reliable, but basic camera.
"The design of the camera was always such that there was sufficient latitude in the lens angle of view, the fixed focus, and the film sensitivity that within fairly wide parameters it would just always get the shot," says Pritchard.
"Well, mostly -
The man who brings Brownies back to life
Randy Smith is a camera repairer based in New York who specialises in restoring toy cameras -
"A Photographic tool doesn't need 16MB sensors or expensive lenses. With the Hawkeye, it's truly point and shoot," he says. "With the old un-
The fact that Brownies are still used today is testament to the simple, sound design, he believes. "A lot of digital users went digital because their job demanded it. But they never lost their love of film, the smell of the chemicals, working in a dark room, waiting until they returned home to process the film to see if they had a successful photo shoot. Or for the snapshooter, waiting a week to get their film back from the lab.
Digital will never compare with the warmth of film."
Stephen Dowling blogs on photography here