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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On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Pictorama readers better hold onto their hats because, this holiday season mysteriously revealed the opportunity for some really extraordinary acquisitions! As a Christmas gift Kim’s help fund these and stretched my resources considerably. I am planning to post about them more or less in the order they came to me.

Both groups (the other to be posted tomorrow) were extraordinary opportunities to buy a series of photos of a single family and keep them together. The first photo in this group was brought to my attention by a Facebook friend, Bren Luke. While I was still trying to figure out the origin of the photo I stumbled across the lot of the six of them for sale on eBay. They were being sold separately, by a British seller, which meant high bids had to go on all in order to secure the whole lot. Prices ended up all over the place, but I paid up and purchased all. I am glad they will stay together. They are much more interesting that way.

I was shocked by the size of them when they arrived. They are tiny – only about 2”x3” and I am unsure what sort of film and camera would have been used. (Kim is guessing 120 film via a brownie type camera?) They are undated and cut from where they had resided in a photo album. Written in the same hand as the one titled here, there are dates of  ’24 and ’25 from other photos on the backs, so we might assume these fall loosely into the same period. Sadly this little boy with a horn is not named, only cousins Kathleen & John get identified. Our other tidbit of information is Swainsthorpe on a Sunday morning. The internet reveals Swainsthorpe to be a tiny hamlet in Norfolk, England, population 360 as of the 2011 census. A close look at clothing shows that the whole lot was likely taken on the same day.

My favorite photo is the one featured at the top – the little boy tooting on his horn next to Felix. This was the one sent via Facebook and worth the price of admission on its own. Felix seems to be listening to that horn, smiling up at the kid – perhaps propped up by the wheelbarrow handle.

As the little boy doesn’t actually interact with Felix I wonder a bit if it is indeed his affection for it that has placed it in the photos or some other more general family fondness for Felix? Maybe the person behind the camera. It is a nice big Felix (one that I would be pleased to have I might add) and he comes up to the little fellow’s waist. I especially like the way he is looking at the little boy playing the horn, the tiny wheelbarrow (child-sized) makes a good counterpoint, the beautiful old stone house in the background. A miniature lawn mower appears in a subsequent photo and, although those are somewhat lesser photos, the light is beautiful in them.

My second favorite photo is the one with the little girl with the long hair holding Felix while the boy (her brother perhaps?) toots on that horn. There is a dreamy quality to this one and I even like the overexposed edges for the effect it creates. Is that a tiny keyboard between the girl and boy? It is hard to know exactly, but the toy lawn mower is great too and these toys create a sense that this is most likely a somewhat privileged family. There are a few other photo variations with these toys, and then the two with cousins. Kathleen looks willing enough, but John appears mostly like he is being coerced into staying still long enough to pose with his cousins, let alone put his arm around him in the one photo. Felix is a bit cut off in one, but he makes a splendid appearance as the fifth member of the family, grinning toothily as always, in the other group photo.

 

Minnesota 1925-31

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: By now frequent readers probably know that there is a period and type of cat photo I am drawn to. I suspect that my aesthetic mystifies some folks, even Kim politely shakes his head over the occasional choice. There is something however, endlessly appealing to me about daily life in the time several decades before I appeared on the scene in the early 1960’s – of course generally around those photos which feature cats. These photos, usually taken in the front or backyard, range from the well-kempt but modest, to rundown and occasionally even well-heeled. Somehow though photos from this period of the early 20th century, though consistently unassuming and by definition amateur, speak of cozy home lives and pets beloved. This yard with this trim little house in the background is no exception. The chimney, coming off the sloping roof, draws our eye upward while the foreground of tamped down soil follows it down. (One suspects that a lawn would have been a luxury that these folks had no intention of indulging in at that time and location.) The back porch boasts something that might be an outdoor icebox (?) and something next to it that I cannot quite figure out, but storage for something perhaps? Everything is very tidy if worn.

These two women, one clearly dressed up in her cloche hat and good coat, while the other is older, in her house apron and looks as if she has just joined us from the kitchen for this quick photo, endeared themselves to me when decided to scoop up these kitties in order to have their picture taken. That good looking dog got in on the action as well, although turned away from the camera, as if he knows he isn’t the primary focus of attention for now but not to be forgotten. The black cat doesn’t even have Blackie’s tiny white star on his or her chest, from what we can see he is indeed coal black, fluffy and with big interested eyes looking out at us. (Sensible people not fearing this black cat.) He seems more patient about being held for this photo than his counterpart, the white and spotted cat, who is conveying some annoyance (and probably dropping white hairs all over that black coat) with the woman asking him to pose. These women could be mother and daughter, but that is not the impression I get. If I was going to venture I would say cousin or niece – perhaps even sisters who have a number of years between them. However, there is a strong resemblance around the nose.

The back of this photo is glued to the old, black paper of a photo album. Someone has written Minnesota 1925-1931 on the back, but that handwriting appears to be contemporary. Although I don’t know, my guess is that it was taken from an album where that information was indicated and the person selling the photos thoughtfully added it. Like several other photos I bought recently, at least one other from the same vendor, a small pile of unrelated photos (presumably from the same album) were included. I am unsure how to shoulder the inadvertent responsibility for these extra unwanted photos which has been visited upon me. The sadness of unclaimed family photos tormenting you is an occupational hazard for those of us who spend our time employed in acquiring old photos. But for the pleasure of being able to spend some time basking in the reflected glow of their long-ago homesteads, I will accept the responsibility to steward all these photos, as best I can during my time with them.

Seattle, Washington, August 20, 1942

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The post office delivered yesterday and we at Pictorama are back on board writing about these two wonderful photo album pages purchased recently. Kim and I are often opining about how sad it is to see albums being broken up – single photos torn out and sold, or even pages like these taken from an album. Still, I purchased these pages while weighing whether or not to purchase an entire album of photos from someone else. They were asking a sizable amount and without being able to see the full album online it seemed dubious and in the end I did not bid – so perhaps selling them whole is indeed a problem. Still, these beauties beg the question of what the full album looked like – was it all illustrated like this? Sad to think of the pages scattered and the family story never coming back together to be told again.

The dated page has the better photos of the two in my opinion. I love the one of the three women all holding cats. Their Seattle yard is very lush – a leafy paradise really, with the sun pouring in behind them. The cats appear to be wriggling to varying degrees in their photo pose holds here. Big white kitty resembles the platinum blonde holding him or her, but the woman with the hat and gloves is my favorite – so proper yet cat friendly. (That dark outfit was covered in white hair when they were done.) Above that photo is sort of a candid one of a group of romping cats and kittens, also tucked away among more greenery. Same white kitty, but this time holding court among the kits it seems – perhaps the mom cat I now think? Looks like an adorable group kicking capering around and enjoying themselves. In the final photo on this page, white kitty continues to be the focus convincing me she is Mom, this time with just two kits. The white paint illustrations are good – swiped poses perhaps? Great animated tummy pose – Cookie assumes this one frequently.

The second page has Watkins’ Home for Strays on the sign next to this hobo-come-Puss ‘n Boots kitty drawing, complete with bindle tossed over his shoulder, fluffy tailed. There’s something a tad wonky about the direction of one of the booted paw feet, but it is a spirited and ambitious illustration. Sadly, there is a photo missing from the lower left of this page – only the black corner holders remain indicating where the bottom of that photo was held. The prize on this page is white kitty and a black cat atop a bird cage. I believe there is a bird in the cage (bottom left – unfortunate birdie which must have been very stressed indeed) and these two pusses are intensely interested. The photo at the top shows the three matching kittens, one sporting a bow this time. It is a poor photo, but shows off these fine youngster kitties for one more view.

The Watkins documented themselves in a highly decorative fashion as a very cat friendly family. Therefore ultimately, where better for these stray pages to find a home than my cat photo collection?

Towser, Me and Tom

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: My collection of men and cat photos seems to be burgeoning starting with this splendid image. (For a taste of earlier contributions to this sub-genre check out prior posts Army Cats and A Man and His Cat.) Although this has the appearance of a photo postcard, and is printed on a similar paper stock, it is smaller and does not have a postcard back – there are bits of black paper stuck to it where it was in an album. Nothing is written on the back, just that neat handwriting at the top, Sincere Regards from Towzer and Me To say nothing of Tom. I love the name Towzer and he is clearly a very good doggie here, perched on the man’s lap, all proud of himself – the sun over-exposed him a bit and Kim has done his best tweak in Photoshop to bring him out some. Meanwhile, Tom requires what I call the hand scrunchy, we’ve all done a version of it to keep kitty in the picture. The bright sun of that day has him bleached out too, but a nice looking striped fellow.

The gentleman (the Me in question) is an attractive and well dressed fellow. If you look carefully he has a nice tie pin as well as one on his lapel, good shoes. His hat is great and probably the first thing I noticed about the photo. Oddly the suit seems a bit large on him if you study it all a bit. The suit also seems a bit heavy for what is clearly a tropical climate, with that giant palm-like plant behind him. It is the sort of photo that leads me to speculation. Vacation or visit? Relocation? Rest cure?

If it is a visit, I must say I can never imagine traveling with my pets. Dogs seem a bit more sturdy about the whole thing – after all, especially here in NYC they are out on a leash several times a day so putting them in a carrier for a plane or hopping in a car seems possible although not without issue. Cats however, don’t seem built for it. For us transversing the two blocks on foot to the vet with screaming kit in carrier is a somewhat hair raising experience. The idea of putting the same cat in carrier and hopping in a car or (I can hardly even imagine) a train or plane, does not in anyway seem like a good start to a vacation. Perhaps it is just my kitties – they one and all have objected strenuously to the carrier and yowl like the end of the world is coming. However, I have friends who do it all the time, so perhaps felines will adapt if it becomes ritual? In all fairness, my kitties never get to go some place nice – really the vet is the extent of their travel. In fact, I am quite convinced that every time I leave the house in the morning that’s where they assume I go – and they feel very sorry for me indeed.