People come to hobbies in many different ways, maybe from a love of doing something well, to interact with other like-minded folks, or just to have fun. I think all three reasons are why I am drawn to photography, and in particular the Kodak Brownie camera.
Like many people—millions, in fact—our family had album after album of snapshots, and since we were definitely not wealthy I’m sure the pictures were taken with inexpensive Brownies. The last of my family’s true versions was a Brownie Flash Six-20, the little trapezoidal box camera made of metal, that emits a resounding “clunk” when you fire the shutter, and a ratcheting stutter when you advance the film. This is definitely not a spy camera, where you sneak up on somebody! Well, feeling nostalgic one day I found one on eBay and bought it for $6—its original 1946 price.
Recently I bought a Six-20 Brownie Model D, made in England, and a yellow filter for it as well. I’ve also acquired a Yashica twin-lens reflex camera, to expand my knowledge of focus, exposure, shutter speed, and a wider range of filters. At times I’ll shoot the same subject with both cameras, to see how the Brownie measures up. And it does darn well.
I should stress that “good” photography is an uncertain thing, and differs from person to person. And with Brownies, virtually the only things I have control over are composition and choice of film. But this extreme restriction has honed my attention. I watch the weather, check out the light and its brightness and direction, and the area of interest I want to show in my picture. Many times as I wander in the countryside, the city, or a park with my camera, I’ll actively seek out subjects. I’ll examine the framing, the foreground and background, the central “idea,” the pattern of shadow and shade, and (always) the slant and intensity of sunlight. I’ll examine things through the viewfinder to see if I actually want to remember that scene via a photo … but then often decide that I don’t.
Even though I’m trying to make photos I can be proud of, I’m also aware that the Brownie was not invented as an artist’s tool. I have to keep reminding myself of that, get a little off my high horse, and actually take pictures of family and friends to capture that “Kodak moment.” Recently in the park, I got my neighbors and their new little dog together on a tree bench, and took some color photos of them, using the Model D. They were fascinated by the “funny” camera—my Brownie was no longer a picture-taking machine; it had become an event!—and they were laughing and joyful as the little dog wiggled and played. I’m realizing this little hobby of mine is providing me more enjoyment than I anticipated. I sure hope the photos turn out well.
From Chuck: Christopher started and moderates the Facebook group “Kodak Brownie Fans“. This group is growing and has already become a go-to place for Brownie information and images. Christopher has been a wonderful addition to the photography world on the internet and I am glad he’s out there doing his thing. Thank you, Christopher!