Kodak: Box Camera

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased this photo on our brief anniversary junket to the East Village last week. It was the first I saw of several in a messy, meandering pile and it was by far the most outstanding. The photos were expensive and therefore I did not give into a compulsion to purchase them all and keep them together. However it was interesting that they very much appeared to be the survivors of a single roll of film, with this one as the lucky shot, both in composition and light. This photo, and all of the others, is mounted on a heavy paper, probably cut out of some sort of a photo album having been affixed at the time. There is a water stain running along the bottom of the paper, not shown here.

The nascent photographer did hit it on the nose here, and as above not again even with the same street and woman what was likely moments later – nor with some folks at the beach at another time. In all fairness, remember that this would have been the earliest of the box cameras – loaded with a roll of film for 100 shots, the camera had not so much as a viewfinder, nor anyway of judging or controlling light – the shutter was moved by pulling a string! They were quite literally a point and shoot as the advertisements said. The whole camera with film was sent back to Kodak and the reloaded camera sent back to you while they processed your roll of film. The circular image tells us that this was the first of these models, patented in 1888. This circular model continued at least through 1890, but eventually morphed into a rectangular format.

While I have enumerated some of the shortcomings of this first entry into photography for the masses, I feel compelled to enumerate some of the gains – those which ultimately accelerate photography forward, culminating, in a sense, in moving pictures all in a span of a few decades. Up until the point of roll film and the box camera, photography required heavy cameras on tripods and mostly glass plates were still in use. The printing of them, executed by the photographer was technical, difficult, and required many chemicals.

This camera, an expensive acquisition costing a fearful $25 at the time, was the development that helped goose photography forward. In some ways I think of it as the iPhone picture taker of its day. (A decade later the Brownie was introduced and only cost a dollar and presumably that’s when photography for the masses really explodes.) What cell phone photography did to photography in the past decade, the box camera did for it at the close of the 19th century. The technology race that starts with daguerreotypes and ends in movies is one of my favorite stories – it seemed like developments in film couldn’t come out fast enough and epitomizes something especially great about the formation of this country at the dawn of the 20th century.

What struck me about this photo was that despite the period dress there was something fresh about it as if it was just snapped. It is a bright day and these women are in their lovely summer dresses, the sidewalk and the whole composition leads us back into space. It has a southern feel to me, something antebellum about the architecture of the houses behind the woman in white. And yet there’s also something about the light that makes me think of a resort at the shore as well. In some ways this photo encompasses the best glimpse of the past photos can offer. A sliver of time delivered to us from the now distant past.

Below are some other splendid examples I snatched off of the internet at a site called Mashable.

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Tuxedo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a soft spot for tuxedo cats – those felines whose white paws look like spats, ankle fashion for men from a former day, and whose white chests look like the white bib of a tuxedo dress shirt. Often there is some sort of black and white mustache to complete the effect. I have written about my first cat friend of adulthood, Otto, who was a fine example of a tux – perfect little Chaplin/Hitler style mustache, four white feet, bib and tummy – and there has been a tux in the house ever since. (As a child I had a splendid love affair with a tortoiseshell, polydactyl name Winkie, but have never owned another kitty with either of those qualities to date. One of those posts with part of her story can be found here at Tom the Bruiser. With Otto I inaugurated a long line of Butler tuxedo cats.)

Once these photos arrived in the mail I was surprised to find that these were both were originally larger photo postcards that had been cut down, the backs of each bearing part of the pre-printed postcard indicia, nothing written on the back. And not to bury the lead – I adore the photo above of kitty in the man’s arms, but giving him a little cat shove. Obviously it was that manuever which inspired my purchase.

Those of us who live with these little darlings know the get away from me polite-but-firm paw shove quite well. (The same cat Otto mentioned above, disliked my then boyfriend at one time. She slept on my pillow at night, draped around my head – and if he came too close she’d reach out with one of those many-toed paws and give him a little cat shove. I will, however, go on record saying that she was devoted to Kim.) All of the participants in this photo, cat, man and dog, are looking right at the camera – man, cat nor pert dog distracted by the stealthy and comical cat-shove. They make a nice family, these three, and I have to assume the man thought of them that way and that’s why he gathered them up for this photo.

I felt compelled to buy both of these photos of this little fellow so that they would stay together. The second photo just gives us a better look at our slightly portly pal the cat – a solid citizen as we say in this house. His or her expression sans annoyance in this one. The fabric of the chair sets off the tuxedo markings and it is a nice picture, but you have no sense of his personality as you do in the other photo, which plainly shows that this little fellow was a real card. I bet there were stories that were told about him and his friends, the dog and the man.

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Ohio University, 1928

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Okay, I certainly understand that this may be a photo that called only to the likes of me. Tiny cat and dog toys, posed with a sort of a Kewpie-esque baby doll, on this stone bench or arcade in a sylvan landscape, complete with classic brick university buildings in the background. This photo, of interest to me for the toy factor, was taken from a photo album belonging to Helen A. Brouwer, Ohio University, Athens, class of ’29. According to the eBay seller, this photo is from 1928; it is unmarked in any way, but I gather it was dated in the album it came from.

Helen, shown below, was born on February 28, 1907, (making her a fellow Aquarian), and resided at 1316 Shelby Street, Sandusky, Ohio. She evidently majored in Phys Ed and became an instructor and coach before life eventually shifted her over to physical therapy later.

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Helen Brauwer, photo not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Our stuffed animal friends are evidently posing in front of Lindley Hall. This is a tiny photo, 2.5″ x 3.5″, poorly recorded. There is another photo of a friend, probably a sorority sister, below holding, I think, the dog toy. Without knowing for sure, I assume these stuffed animals were beloved mascots of the sorority, recorded here for posterity. I like that cat toy and wouldn’t mind adding him to my collection. The dog is a nice match for him, and I like to think I would have gravitated to a sorority that held these toys in high esteem. The photos and bones of the story as sorted out from the album and subsequent listing on eBay appealed to the part of me that likes reading young adult novels from the first part of the twentieth century – such as The Automobile Girls, Grace Harlowe and The Moving Picture Girls (my post about them can be found here), but a real life version of a first generation for many, of women at college. Some silliness such as sororities and mascots, but of course, really the early foundation for a first educated and independent female workforce.

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Woman holding the mascots in front of Lindley Hall, photo not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The Boys and Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have periodically opined on how much fun it would be to have your photo taken with a nice Felix the Cat doll and this one looks like a third child in the photo. Felix is such a handy size I wonder if it is a prop (probably) or actually belongs to these youngsters. I know if it was I as a tiny tot, I’d have been bellowing for him to come home with me; greedy, thankless child that I was. These two kids look quite jolly, the older one downright debonair – perhaps best not to meet him as a gent (or cad) around town later in life. The younger one appears to be trimmed out in fur which seems all odd from today’s standards. Even in our own decadent times – fur trimmed outfit for your toddler?

This photo seems like the sort of studio shot taken for the purpose of eventually ending up on grandma’s table of treasured family photos. My mother’s mom had studio portraits, large ones, of my mother and her brother, both in graduation cap and gowns, as I remember. The one of my mother had hand colored tinting, and it was the first time I ever saw that in a photo. As a kid I was endlessly fascinated by it. I can see it in my mind now, hanging in the dining room (housing a table which occasionally held food, but we absolutely never ate at – that was done in the kitchen with a table and space which both somehow magically expanded to fit an infinite number of family members as required) on a flocked print wallpaper, gray with a green design. The photo did not look like my mother, mostly because her nose was broken and not set properly shortly after high school when the photo was taken. I didn’t know that until I was older and wouldn’t have thought to ask for an explanation for the transformation. My uncle looked exactly the same – his Howdy Dowdy resemblance following him into adulthood and beyond. As the younger brother his photo was true color and his bright red hair and freckles stood out.

When my grandmother moved out of her house and into a nursing facility, much was disposed of and a small number of things were absorbed by my mother and uncle – who by that time was living down south, but collected a number of things. I do not know what happened to the photos, my mother was not overly fond of hers so she clearly did not claim them. I do not know if my uncle did. I must think to ask my mother when I call her later today.

 

Canton Ohio Photo Studio

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a sweet and interesting photo. The gentleman on the right appears to be in a WWI uniform – are they brothers? A fair guess that they are. The idea that that they posed this photo with their cat is of course extremely compelling for me. Nothing is written on this card and it was never sent. It is oddly filthy, with dirty fingerprints both front and back. Now that I have photographed it I will see about cleaning it, but am afraid I might damage it. Not like I know much about that sort of thing. These gentlemen pose in front of a faded background scene, their sharp shadows belying any illusion of realism.

Of course if I were to take a photo before leaving for war, of those dearest to me it would include my kits as well as my humans. This fellow was of course transported to said photo studio, M. Mimi’s to be precise, for this purpose. (I have my doubts about the quality of M. Mimi’s work, I must admit.) Those of us who live with cats are aware that, while the level of distress varies from feline to feline, in general they do not approve of involuntary locomotion and their distress runs from what I call end-of-the-world meows to mere dark muttering of malcontent.

I understand that some people have cats that travel contentedly (don’t look so smug!), but I have never been acquainted with one of those well adjusted fellows, not in my many cat relationships. Cookie and Blackie do not transport especially happily, but they are far from the worst felines I have known in this regard. When they were oh-so-tiny we transported them together in one carrier. This seems utterly impossible to imagine now. Anyway, I will assume that the cat’s appearance in this photo was a non-negotiable issue. Perhaps a copy of the picture went with the soldier and this one stayed here, as did the cat.

While I have often noted the tendency for people to grab their cat when they are being photographed, the idea of a posed portrait with one is much more unusual. In this case they had to also convince puss to sit still for the moment – and he or she did as it isn’t blurred at all. It’s odd, but the cat seems to be taking it seriously. In fact, all three are pretty serious. I can’t tell for sure, but I believe he has a cigarette in his left hand, uniform of the day pulling in some places, prescribed bagginess in others.

The man in the overcoat is a bit unusual as well, at least by today’s standards. He has kept this very long coat, hat and his gloves on for the photo. Under it he sports a full suit and tie, scarf. He smokes a cigarette. Unlike the cat he seems to be in a bit of a rush and they are awkward in their pose, not quite touching. The story is forgotten as far as we know, but the photo will be cared for to the best of our abilities at its current resting place here at Pictorama.

Tea, Oil, Milk

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This mystifying little photo was one of the more random purchases at my postcard convention foray a few months back. These gents seem to be enjoying a private joke of sorts with their marked bottles of booze, tea, oil, milk – those on the table and the presumably dead soldiers (which appear to be champagne bottles) on the ground around it. There is nothing written on the reverse of the card and it was never mailed. It is a bit amateurish with the feet on one cut off and his head grazing the top of the frame, but it is very jolly and even sort of ambitious in its own way.

It’s a silly little postcard, but in some regards it illustrates what I love about this period of photography. Photography was novel enough that people would take the trouble to put together a whole scenario and pose for such photos. A statement of themselves and of purpose as such. In this case it is about boozing for these somewhat formally attired gentlemen represent their beverages as tea and milk and then the third bottle – of oil. The idea of getting oiled we’ll assume? Google tells me that the term is originally of British origin, for getting drunk of course, and perhaps derived from the thought behind a well oiled machine. Makes me think a bit of Popeye cartoons for some reason, although admittedly there was not booze in those. Although he had Olive Oyl of course, – a special oil, er Oyl unto herself! There was an Oyl family and Olive had siblings named Castor and Crude; my memory is that, for better or worse, they do not play a significant role in the strip however.

The photo postcard phenomena makes up the lion’s share of my collection. Either journeymen photographers who would take the image and presumably send it to the recipient later – or do a fast developing in a, more often than not, worn bucket of developer resulting in a faded image years later. One like this seems more homemade – both in the intention and execution, and I imagine it was a kit or something like a friend with a camera where the photos were sent off to be developed and printed on the postcard stock. We’ll imagine that a merry time was had by all in the making of this photo – meanwhile, it is hard to imagine people setting themselves up to take such a photo today, despite the ease of photo taking and ever present selfies that abound. Perhaps just one way the world is a tiny bit less fun than it once was.

 

Christmas in July – Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I decided that this summer weekend deserved some cooling down with recent Christmas finds. For many years when I worked at the Metropolitan Museum they had Christmas in July, a preview of the holiday line for the gift and bookshop. It would be set up in our boardroom and senior staff would be invited up to have a look. Anyway, the phrase stuck with me and ignited the holiday feeling with the British Felix card I shared yesterday. (It can be found here). Today’s treasure is a card that I saw a variation of quite awhile ago (same set and different photo? I wish I remembered), but it was priced very high. I snagged this one for considerably less.

Although this was a photo postcard it has traces of photo album paper stuck to the back of it. It does not appear to have been mailed. However, written neatly on it is Erma & Fred from Millard. While I think we can assume that Erma is the little girl perched on this grand beast, who is Fred? Is he dressed up as Santa? (Don’t suppose he could be the reindeer?) If you look carefully Santa is atop a box to make him sufficiently tall for the composition of this photo – and perhaps also to make him a little bit more grand?

If  you look carefully there is a small sign, on a little stand, which reads 1237 – December 1937? or a number to track which photo take this was to attach it to a person later? Of much more interest however are the toys scattered below, including a small Felix doll which is one that I neither own nor have seen previously. The dolls are generic from my perspective, but I say that understanding that perhaps to others they are as fascinating as Felix is to me. It is in some ways a sad and dry little set, yet I bet from Erma’s perspective it was pretty great to be there.

My own family wasn’t one for posed, studio holiday photos. We never sat on Santa’s lap for a photo or to tell him what we wanted for Christmas. We celebrated Christmas (and Hanukah), but in a secular way, and additionally we were never taught to believe in Santa Claus. My mother (raised Christian, but agnostic) thought lying to children about such things was an awful practice and told chagrined stories about her brother leaving the front door wide open on Christmas Eve to accommodate Santa better. My dad, as an atheist and ostensibly Jewish, was extremely ambivalent about the holidays and therefore no unnecessary pageantry was added. (Additionally, my younger brother Edward was born on Christmas Eve so we added a birthday party in there as well.) I don’t believe as a kid I felt like I missed much by not having the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap or to mail lists to the North Pole.  We had a tree, there were toys and big family meals – but alas, no toy-filled Santa photos!