Exploring Photography: The Brownie Cameras – the most important cardboard box in history?

This week the BBC reported on an inconspicuous cardboard box that measured about 5″ tall, was covered in leatherette and had a small round opening at the front.

The Original Brownie Camera

This cardboard box is a camera and it maybe the most important camera ever made. This ordinary box known as ‘The Brownie’ revolutionised photography by the sheer volume of sales it was attaining. Before The Brownie burst on to the scene in 1900, cameras were distinctly unwieldy and downright inconvenient. These cameras were made from brass and mahogany and took pictures on to large glass or metal plates, requiring exposure times measured in minutes. Photography was very much a job, an activity involving strength, equipment, toxic chemicals and most importantly patience – it wasn’t something for ordinary folk to indulge in.

History of The Brownie

The Brownie in action

US inventor George Eastman sold his first ‘Kodak Camera’ in 1888; it came pre-loaded with enough film to take 100 photographs. Once the film was complete the camera was sent back to Kodak to be developed. The Kodak Camera targeted the wealthy with a price tag of $25… in 1888. A development happened 12 years later when inventor Edward Brownell designed the Kodak Brownie. Aesthetically the Kodak Brownie had many similarities to the original Kodak, but with one innovation that would revolutionise film photography forever. The film could be taken out of the camera, once complete, and developed via Kodak stockists, chemists or even at home. The development was not only a breakthrough in the photography world but in price. You could buy the camera, a film and have that film processed for just $2, making photography portable and affordable for all.

Using the Brownie

The Kodak Brownie Cameras Flash

The Brownie was simple in its functionality, a single shutter speed and narrow apertures created deep depth of field. The Brownie adopted a shot and hope technique, the lens could not be focused and early Brownies had only a basic viewfinder – many people just used marks on the top of the camera as a rough guide to what might be in the frame.

In a production run some eight decades long, the Brownie can be argued to have captured more of the 20th Century than any other kind of camera. The fact that Brownies are still used today is testament to the simple, sound design.

For more info visit the original article on the BBC