“My box Brownie was a trusted companion for years and has given me more pleasure than I could ever imagine possible. Family gatherings, holiday outings or a visit to dad’s old farm were just the occasion to get my sturdy little friend out of its closet. It was an incredibly simple camera with no dials and knobs to fuss about. My husband chose to steer clear of me : he worked with an expensive folding camera and used an exposure meter as a crutch all along. So while hubby was busy measuring the light and distance I would wipe my lens clean with a handkerchief, back up the ten feet from the group, put the sun at my back, peep into the tiny view-glass at the top and snap away happily. . .”
Maria’s words bring back the long forgotten romance of box camera photography in the first half of the twentieth century. Imagine the thrill of buying a roll of film, loading your box and moving out into the wooded landscape on a sunny day. On your way back late in the afternoon, you drop the film at the nearest photo lab, or if you are adept at handling chemicals, head straight for a session in the kitchen-turned-darkroom. Whichever the method, you are working along the same lines as did hundreds of others in the early days. And the reward of your labors comes on the following day when family and friends crowd around you letting out squeals of delight, each of them eagerly passing around the snaps, and junior enormously pleased to see himself standing beside the car with a sombre expression on his face.
Although a precision instrument made with the same care and thoroughness bestowed on its more sophisticated rivals, the key feature that distinguishes a box camera is its simplicity. Hundreds of these gadgets were in production earlier using a variety of film sizes. Thousands were stocked by photographic dealers to be eagerly snapped up by people who wanted to take family get-togethers back in the home or out on a picnic, and who were just a bit scared of the intricacies of a gadgety professional camera. Turn over the leaves of an old album and you will find evidence in the form of those golden-brown snapshots showing granny when she was a girl, or granddad trying to push hard against the lawn mower. And how charming these pictures look!