With the holiday season coming to a close, we can take a few moments at the beginning of the New Year to reflect on the time spent with family and friends. A cornerstone of the holidays has, for nearly a century, been the camera. Almost everyone has that one family member that just has to get a few good pictures of everyone together. With the advent of social media, the desire to get that perfect picture has only increased.
The Carriage Barn currently hosts multiple cameras in our permanent exhibit. A personal favorite of mine is the Agfa box camera. This camera is a later replication of the original, and similarly styled, Brownie box cameras sold by the Eastman Kodak Company in the early 20th Century. The invention of this inexpensive, accessible, and user-friendly camera helped bridge a technological divide. Prior to the release of the Brownie box camera, photography was almost exclusively an activity for the wealthy. Inventor Frank Brownell changed this by creating the Brownie box camera and, subsequently, revolutionizing photography.
Dr Michael Pritchard, president of the Royal Photographic Society and the author of The History of Photography in 50 Cameras, has this to say about the Brownie box camera:
“A $1 or 25-shilling camera capable of producing reasonable results was innovative, and coupled with Kodak’s ability to provide directly or through an enormous number of chemists and photographic retailers a developing and printing service meant that photography became accessible irrespective of your social class or photographic skills.”1
The Agfa box camera currently on display was created by German imaging company Agfa, now known as Agfa-Gevaert. The box camera works similarly to the human eye. A shutter at the front of the camera opens and allows light to pass through the lens. This light is reflected from the object being photographed. As the light moved through the lens it is inverted and reflected onto a strip of film.
So, this New Year, when scrolling through the holiday photos on your phone, be sure to give a quick thanks to Frank Brownell!
- Dowling, Stephen. “The most important cardboard box ever?” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30530268 (December 31, 2018).