Picture taking by everyday folks has certainly undergone an evolution since George Eastman invented the Kodak box camera in 1888. It was the first camera specifically designed for amateur use.
Before that time, the masses took advantage of traveling photographers who came through the country with their “hooded” cameras and portable backdrops. A portrait of my father as a little boy, made just before the turn of the century, shows him resting his hand on a furry throw draped over a rail and the dim image of an ornate archway in the background—neither one resembling my grandparents’ home setting.
Some forty years after its invention, the Kodak box camera was still around, so well established in the marketplace that people commonly called their camera “the Kodak” whether it was that brand or not.
My mother saved egg and cream money and bought a Model Six-20 Target Hawk-Eye Kodak in time to make my picture on my second birthday. The little square table that held the coal oil lamp in the living room was moved to the backyard, as all pictures had to be taken outdoors. It would be years before flash cameras made indoor photography possible for the average person. The table was covered with a large embroidered needlework piece edged in crochet. On it was a high round cake bearing two candles and I was sitting in my father’s highchair, cooperating with the pose. Incidentally, I still have the table, chair, large doily, camera and, of course, the picture.
As I remember, there were only eight or so frames on a roll of film, so we were very selective about taking pictures. Sometimes a roll of film would stay in the camera from one Christmas to the next.
When the last picture was snapped, we mailed the roll to a developing studio and waited anxiously for the pictures to come. As a bonus, the studio personnel sometimes selected one of the snapshots, enlarged it from 2 ½”x3 ½” to a 4”x6” print and tinted it as they thought it might look in real color.
As I grew in responsibility, I was allowed to make pictures with the Kodak. It served us well through high school and graduation. The backdrop for me in my junior-senior banquet “formal” was the canna bed on the south side of the house. I stood in front of the clump of dusty miller at the garden fence to capture me in my white graduation two-piece dress.
As a college graduation gift, my husband-to-be gave me a Brownie camera. It recorded our wedding trip to the seashore and back through the southeastern states, our babies learning to crawl and start to school, and vacations—one of which led the family back to the seashore where a big wave washed over the camera and ruined its innards.
Taking its place was the miracle-working Polaroid Land camera. Dozens of its instant images fill an album—fading fast as they do, but recording that ‘60s era in our lives.
After the novelty of the Polaroid wore off and color film was the norm, we upgraded our camera several times. Photograph albums got fatter, the average developed pictures got bigger and boxes overflowed. Life was good.
When the time came for me to make my most recent purchase, I knew what I was up against, so I told the sales clerk to show me the simplest model that I could buy. Her instructional spiel lost me with the first mention of memory cards and operation manuals that had to be downloaded from www.something.
As I’m still struggling to make my Deluxe Power Shot work for me, everybody else pulls a flat phone from his or her pocket, and with a thumb converts it to a camera and scans the universe.
Who knows what will be next. But how many of those instant images will be saved in some form to pass on to future generations? That (worriedly) remains to be seen.