The Black Box Brownie Film Camera

The first time I laid eyes on a camera was my mother’s black box Brownie.  I am not sure why she actually had the instrument in the first place? Snapping photos back in 1965 was not exactly her thing, it still isn’t her thing and being at the wrong end of 80 years old, is never going to become her thing.

I can still remember, it was the mid-year school holidays and I was all packed to attend the primary school camp in Margate. Two weeks away at the coast, living in a canvas bell tent.  Memory fails as to the reason I wanted to have a camera along to record the events but I ended up with a crash course on how to use the box Brownie and we dropped in at the local chemist to buy a roll of film. The kind gentleman offered to load the camera for us and just as well, my mom was clueless on the complicated procedure of getting the film into the device.

It might seem strange but apart from a few specialist photographic shops, the chemist was where everyone bought film back then and then later handed the exposed roll in for developing and printing.  Real chuffed with myself, I had the Brownie loaded with 12 exposures of black and white Ektachrome. (Colour film was way out of the budget and anyway, only the Pro’s used that stuff)

Voortrekker Monument

The box Brownie was just that, a square-ish box that you held low down at about chest height and squinted into a small mirror on top that gave you a reflection of what the lens was pointed at. If you liked what you saw, you clicked down a lever and the image was snapped. Then, a wheel was turned to wind the film to the next exposure.  A little window on the side showed the number of the next photo.

It’s easy-peasy, simply place the subject so the sun shines on them with the sun behind you, hold really still, hold your breath and click the lever. Remember to wind to next number and find the next subject to photograph. If you didn’t wind the film immediately, the camera was more than happy to take a double exposure. I just think of the artistic stuff I could have tried out but back then it was considered a ‘messed-up’ photo and never printed.

Well, in the end the camera and I survived the camping experience and it was back to the gentleman at the chemist to rewind and unload the film and send it in for processing. I did end up with a few keepers and begged for more film to photograph everything from the family to pets, a trip to the museum, monuments and assorted historical buildings.

Friend at camp

Teachers at the camp in Margate

For a christmas present, some time later and me, a bit older, my parents decided to grace me with the revolutionary cartridge film camera. Colour film became cheaper and it now came in a foil pack that simply dropped into the camera. You just open the back of the camera and drop the preloaded cartridge in, shut back, wind film till number appears and press the shutter release button. Wondrous was the automatic wind onto the next frame, gone were the double exposures and you could hold the device up to your eye and really see clearly what you were shooting!

The same sun rule and subject applied but now there was a fitting at the top of the camera to take a square cube that contained four bulb things that would flash, if you added a battery. Night photography was born. Welcome the dreaded red eye, but no one seemed to notice. I don’t have a lot of indoor or night photos from that era, probably since the cost of the flash cube and batteries were high.

As time marched on, my cameras improved but I never got out of the “point and shoot” genre and my photos were largely just memories and happy snappies. Eventually when I overworked a digital bridge camera to “death” and it was impractical to repair it, the specialist repair shop offered me a second hand DSLR with a kit lens and a zoom lens at a fairly good price. It was the most impulsive buy I have ever done! Since then I haven’t looked back and with the help of a creative camera club my happy snaps are evolving into actual photography.

View of Cape Town from the cable way

Family Help

The family pooch