It’s Memorial Day, and in honor of all those that sacrifice to keep the world safe, which includes my Grandfather, I am launching this humble blog with his original Brownie camera. Here’s to you Grandpa.
Kodak introduced this baby shoebox with a hole in it back in 1900. It cost 1 U.S. dollar ($3,877.00 USD in today’s money) and is basically the reason why we hate people who make duck lips and take selfies. This camera started the photo-revolution, and basically put a camera in everyone’s (oversized) pocket. I mean look at some of these ads from the time:
I mean if boys and women could use it, ANYONE could, amirite? If you’re wondering why it’s called a Brownie, considering they were completely black, it’s because it was named after a special Scottish good natured goblin of the fairy order. I swear to God that is true. I guess that day in the marketing department looked like this:
“Ok. So we got this camera. It’s got one button. Super easy to use. Super cheap. When you’re done with the roll of film, you mail the whole camera in and we develop and send it back. Women and Children can use it for Christ’s sake. Now, what should we name it?”
“Let’s name it after a small brown Scottish goblin.”
“Goddamn’t Ted. Your a damn genius.”
And it was so. Ok, enough abut that, lets look at this kid for a sec:
Like the OG hipster, amirite? Anyway, the function of this camera is about as basic as it gets. Slap some film in it, roll it to a blank spot, and flick the shutter. Done. The only “control” you have is a small, metal lip that you can pull out that adds “time” to the shutter? How much time? No one knows. Not even Mr. Eastman. What I can tell you is that every-time you jab your nail under that lip you are guaranteed to jab the fleshy underpart of your nail and want to throw the camera across the room. Sure, only a dollar, but for how many… HOW MANY MR. EASTMAN?
I love the little “Use Macy Film” printed on the advance nob, not that you can even buy film at Macy’s these days. I love the little ground glass viewfinders that see the world backwards, and make you turn the wrong way no matter how many times you use it. I definitely love the cool starburst on the front of the camera from a time when being “ironic” didn’t even exist a little. I tried looking up which model it is and from what year through this amazing site, but was unable to date it exactly. My calculations is that it was manufactured somewhere between 1946 and 10 B.C.E.
I don’t remember my Grandfather ever using this camera but I do remember him always with a camera around his neck. He was the original photo hipster, and definitely parted his love for the image on to me. This little Brownie was one of my first cameras, and was so simple, unique, and frankly, ancient, that it fueled a love for photography for many years. I remember taking it to school, and snapping 10 pictures exactly of my friends. I really never stopped since then.
Here are those very shots:
There is something quite beautiful about the soft focus and creamy contrast. A simple camera for a simple time. I even like the fogging and lousy developing job I did, but don’t go too hard on me, I was only 15 and had to wind that 120 film on a metal reel, which if you’ve never tried in the dark, it is a bitch.
Anyway, here’s to you Grampa! Happy memorial day… thank you for defeating the Nazi’s, and giving me your camera. I still use it to this day, and with every click of that little metal leaf shutter think of you.
Roberto Serrini is a professional filmmaker who records his adventures in word, photography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a drone operator. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com where he can be contacted as well. The Vintage Camera Quest is an adventure through vintage cameras. Each week he is using one of his 40 collected cameras, developing and posting the experience here. Check him out on instagram @vintagecameraquest or subscribe to his blog www.vintagecameraquest.com – thanks for reading!