Photography: Snap Shops--The Kodak Brownie


Figure 1.--The Kodak Browie revolutionalized photography. After 1900 we begin to get vast numbers of seeminly ordinary images, but of great value to the social historian. This image is undated, but was probably taken about 1915. We believe the boy is from Indiana and at an early age had taken up photography.

The static, studio quality of photography changed forever in 1900 when the Brownie camera was introduced for $1. Now most Americans could afford one. The number of informal snbapshots increase exponetially beginnuing in 1900. It is no accident that large numbers of family "snap shots" began appearing. Family snap shots meant that children might be photographed around the house at any time of the day. Indeed they were so easy to use that children might even take the photographs themselves. The Brownie and the sanp shot were a marvelous inovation to the social historian. The resulting snapshots provided wonderful images of everyday life. Photographs of children were no longer limited to an occasional visit to the photographic studio when they were dressed in their best clothes. Begining in 1900 one starts to see children in their everyday clothes engaged in day to day activities around the house. Not only do we get a much more relaistic look at how children were dressed, but we have a multitude of images showing their homes and everyday activities in and around the home. It is Georege Eastman and his Brownie that brought this about.

19th Century Photography

Most people in the 19th cebntury had their portraits taken in studios. The images are static and posed. Often they dressed up especially for the portrait. Photographs could be taken outdoors, but to do so photographers like Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner needed a horse-drawn waggon with all the equipment and chemicals. Amateur photographers did exist. But it was an expensive and demanding hobby. Few could afford it. And thus there were very few family images taken around the home. A majpr impediment besides bulky cameras and tripods were the heavy, fragil glass plates that need considerable skill to handle. This is why most 19th century photographyn was studio photography.

George Eastman

George Eastman was one of the industrial titans that helped make America. Hevwas born Waterville, New York near Rochester (1854). He attended public schools in Rochester. He began working in an insurance company and a bank while tinkering with photography. Without an advanced education, he perfected a process of making dry plates for photography (1880). He founded the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company to manufacture dry plates. The first Kodak (a name he invented) camera was introduced (1888). It was a simple handheld box camera. The customer could take 100 negative based photographs. Once exposed, customers mailed the entire camera back to the company for developing, printing, and reloading. Kodak's slogan was 'You press the button, we do the rest.' An improved camera with roll film on a transparent base was introduced (1889). This became the standard for film until the developmet of digital photography. He founded Eastman Kodak (1892). The game changing step was the Brownie camera, which was intended for children and sold for only $ 1.00. It prived to have a much wider appeal. There were initiallycompetitors, during the roaring twenties, Kodak developed a virtual monopoly of the photographic industry in the United States and opened many foreign markets. Eastman died (1932). A year later, the NAZIs seized power in Germany which would undermine AGFA--Kodak's chief competitor.

Box Cameras

The box camera was a major innovation. Until the box camera, photography was so complicated and expensive that only the most committed amateurs could persue photoraphy. George Eastman in 1889 introduced the Kodak box camera bring photography within reach of a much larger market--but it was still relatively expensive compared to what earlier cameras cost. We begin to see affluent people taking snap shots at this time. Even children could operate a box camera. We see, for example, boys at exclusive private schools with box cameras in the 1890s. The Kodak box was the first box camera to become widely adopted by the public. The design was soon copied by compettors, but it was archetype for the cameras that made the family snapshot possible for middle-class Americans. The secret to the box camera was flexible roll film which made the cameras light weight and portabl. Heavy tripods were no longer necessary. And doing away with heavy, fragile glass photographic plates freed the photographer to go about anywhere. And Kodak solved the development process which was complicated. The first Kodak camera was pre-loaded with film. The the customer mailed the the camera to Kodak which processed and relaoded the camera with flim. If the individual could afford it, the box camera was a simple cameras that could be easily operated by amateurs. The film was on a strip which could be advanced by simply winding. Thus by the 1890s snap shots begin to appear in contrast with the formal studio shots previously available. Box cameras while not cheap in the 1890s, were a fraction of the cost of the elaborate cameras previously required. Prices steadily fell in the next centuary which would bring photography available to virtually everyone.

The Brownie

The static, studio quality of photography changed forever in 1900 when Eastman Kodak introduced the Brownie camera for $1.00 (1900). Now most middle-classnAmericans could afford one. Eastman launched a major advertising campaign to sell his new camera. The word Kodak had been chosen because it meant nothing and thus istinctly referred to the company. The name 'Brownie', however, was chosen in part because of the popularity of a children's book of cartoons of the same name. Also the inovative new camera was at first manufactured for Eastman by Frank Brownell of Rochester, New York. An incredible 100,000 were purchased during 1900 alone.

Snapshots

The inexpensive Brownie enabled large numbers of untrained amateurs without a lot of money to spend on expensive equioment to become photogaphers. The number of informal snbapshots increased exponetially beginning in 1900. It is no accident that large numbers of family "snapshots" suddenly appeared. Family snapshots meant that children might be photographed around the house at any time of the day. Indeed they were so easy to use that children might even take the photographs themselves and did.

Everyday Life

The Brownie and the sanp shot were a marvelous innovation to the social historian. The resulting snapshots provided wonderful images of everyday life. Until the invention of ther Briwnie, the overwalming majority of photographic images were stiff studio portraits. Photographs of children were no longer limited to an occasional visit to the photographic studio when they were dressed in their best clothes. Begining in 1900 one starts to see children in their everyday clothes engaged in day to day activities around the house. Not only do we get a much more relaistic look at how children were dressed, but we have a multitude of images showing their homes and everyday activities in and around the home. It is Georege Eastman and his Brownie that brought this about.







HBC






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Created: October 9, 2002
Last updated: 5:17 PM 3/11/2019