Cameras at the Beach

Vintage snapshot of a 1920s family in the surf, with the man holding a period box camera

Circa 1920s family ready to capture just about any moment

Beach woman holding fold-out camera, circa 1910

Camera woman, circa 1910

Vintage snapshot of 1920s group at the beach, including camera

Circa 1920s group + camera (at right; click to enlarge)

I will be posting much more regularly from now on, beginning with what you might call an ode to the coming summer. Please see vintage-snapshots for another great beach shot added today.

Dueling Cameras

Woman and man take photographs of each other in 1920s vintage snapshot

The Kodak Brownie in use, circa 1920s

This 1920s snapshot provides a charming look at what are likely Kodak Brownies – possibly, at least in the case of the woman, a 1920s No. 3, Model B, as from what one can make out in the close-up it looks an awful lot like that model – including the trigger guard, which according to this very informative site was added to the Model B from 1920. The No. 3 was produced from 1908 to 1934, and estimates are that somewhere above one million were made.

Detail of what is likely a Kodak No.3, Model B camera in use, circa 1920s

Ready to shoot

Kodak No. 3, Model B, circa 1920s

Kodak No. 3, Model B, circa 1920s (photo:

A Very Early Dog Snapshot

Circa 1890 photograph of dog from a Kodak Original or No. 1 Camera

Through a keyhole: an early Kodak snapshot (circa 1890)

This photo from my collection is an early example of a dog (along with a lamb) captured in a snapshot – difficult as it may be at first to make him or her out. Of course photographs of dogs had been taken before, but (as I talk about in my first post) the amateur snapshot was born in 1888 with the advent of Kodak’s first camera, known as The Kodak, and this shot would have been a product of either that or its immediate successor the following year, the Kodak No. 1. The 2 1/2″ diameter image indicates that it is from one of those cameras, as the Kodak No. 2 produced shots of 3 1/2″ in diameter.

The person I obtained this from estimated that it dated from about 1890 and had been taken in the Thousand Islands area of New York – which interestingly is only about 120 miles from Rochester, home of Kodak. I think it is quite beautiful, and that the round format really almost makes the photo in some ways. (My wife said it sort of made her think of a Wes Anderson movie, and the feeling of peering into a different world.) It really is a photo of much more than the dog and lamb, the photographer clearly not having followed Kodak’s recommendation at the time, which suggested, as you can see below, photographing a dog from a distance of six feet.

Kodak's recommendation for photographing dogs and cows, circa 1890

Should you want to showcase your dog to best effect…

Here is a close-up of the figures, with a little contrast added. I have no idea, of course, how many snapshots of dogs were taken in those first few years. This may have been the 10th, or the 10,000th, but in any event was probably pretty magical at the time, as it remains today.

Close-up of dog and lamb with people in early Kodak snapshot

Close-up of dog and lamb being helped to pose for a very early Kodak camera

The More Things Change: Update on Photography and the Pencil

Eric Cheng photo of cats with the new Lytro camera

Lytro-fied cats (photo by Eric Cheng)

I began this blog with an entry about how Kodak founder George Eastman wanted to bring photography to the masses, striving to “make the camera as convenient as the pencil.” I was therefore intrigued when, while leafing through a recent copy of Entrepreneur Magazine, I came across the pencil once again invoked to convey how “easy” photography has become. The article was on the Lytro camera, a new approach to photography in which the camera captures, as the company’s website explains, “the entire light field, which is all the light traveling in every direction in every point in space.” That means a photo can be focused after the fact – that is, any part of the image can be brought into focus. In addition, they “allow both the picture taker and the viewer to … shift their perspective of the scene, and even switch seamlessly between 2D and 3D views. With these amazing capabilities, pictures become immersive, interactive visual stories that were never before possible – they become living pictures.”

Personally I am not terribly convinced (though I can see some of the advantages; a CNET review points out that “Lytro believes the cameras will be be handy for focusing an image after it was taken; you can whip the camera out, turn it on, and snap the shot rapidly without worrying about waiting for an autofocus system to hunt around while the baby’s first smile fades away”), but that isn’t the point. I was mainly struck by the final paragraph of the article, and the fact that the pencil can still be the favored point of reference for illustrating how far photography has come:

“Within the ranks of career photographers, Lytro is not exactly greeted with cheer. Rob Haggart, former photo director at Men’s Journal and founder of the blog, sees Lytro as another step in photography’s trajectory away from professional camera-wielders toward computer-using amateurs who can fiddle with imperfect images. ‘From autofocus to digital images to the Lytro–operating a camera today is like operating a pencil,’ he says. ‘How can you make people pay you to operate a pencil?'”

I don’t think professional photographers actually have that much to worry about, and to the extent that the Lytro has been described as a “no frills, socially-oriented, easy-to-use camera,” it seems to be intended to fill a different niche, at least for now. (Besides, to pursue the simile, “operating a pencil” (in the broad sense) is of course precisely something people often do pay for – when the result is, say, a great piece of writing.)

That brings up something about the way popular photography has changed in recent years, however, as the writer of the article, Jennifer Wang, notes:

“With the photo-sharing app Instagram, tens of millions of people have adopted a new concept of what a snapshot means. Facebook noticed and snapped up the 13-person operation for a cool $1 billion. Contrast that with Kodak, the bankrupt company that invented the snapshot more than 100 years ago: Its market valuation on the day of Instagram’s purchase was less than $80 million.”

Personally, whatever the latest developments in the concept of the snapshot, I think I will always be partial to the less-controllable, simpler charm of the Kodak version.

Vintage 1940s photo of a horse, dog and farmhouse

Circa 1940s Kodak snapshot (collection of the author)