- Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 January 2011 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 05 January 2011 00:00
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There are certain moments when you realize that a part of our history is over. Sometimes it’s dramatic, but most of the time, these instances barely make the news. For instance, in 2006, Western Union transmitted its last telegram. For most people that doesn’t mean much. In the 21st century a telegram is about as archaic as a butter churn, but for over a century, from the time of Abraham Lincoln to well past World War II, it was the way the average person got instantaneous information.
As of last week another bit of our history is officially over as well. The pioneer of the mass marketing of cameras and film, and all the fun that goes with it, Kodak, officially said goodbye to its last roll of Kodachrome film. Kodachrome was an amazing product and made even the novice photographer a master of color and scenery. There are shots in my photo albums that look like they belong to a true photographer as opposed to the rank amateur that was taking a casual shot with his Kodak instamatic. But that was the magic of Kodachrome.
However, I have to be honest. For me, the real joy of picture taking didn’t start until the digital age. Film is great, and in the right hands it’s an artistic medium. But for me, being able to take endless shots is a joy. And, as a United Press photographer told me along time ago, “the key to good photography is taking a lot of pictures – one of them is bound to be a good one.”
I have a wonderful digital camera, it has more features than I’ve mastered and I’ve been fortunate to take some good pictures. It’s fun. That’s why I was a little surprised at my own sudden desire a few months ago to buy an old 1915 Brownie Camera at a Fredericksburg Antique Shop. This camera has a bellows that slide out on a track and when fully extended looks like it might have belonged to Mathew Brady during the Civil War. It doesn’t have much utility anymore, but I had the notion that as much as I wasn’t a “film guy,” that this camera deserved to be used at least one more time.
It was in surprisingly good shape. The shutter worked perfectly, there were no light leaks in the bellows, and thanks to the Internet I even found an original guidebook. I was all set. All it needed was a little cleaning. However, finding film was a challenge. Kodak hasn’t made film for this camera in 30 years. Fortunately, I found a shop that makes vintage film, and for a small fortune, I got four rolls. For another small fortune they’ll develop them. So, for much of this holiday, I have been finding subjects, carefully placing my tripod, and taking snapshots with a nearly century old camera. It’s mostly an outdoor camera since this handbook claims it needs a lot of sunlight. Inside shots, or so notes the handbook, “…should be taken using either flash paper or flash powder.” I am sure a photographer’s light would do fine, but to make it easier, I have been sticking to outside shots. The photos will be black and white, and save for the updated fashions, will probably look like they belong in my grandmother’s photo album.
While my experiment has no real value, particularly for such a devotee of digital photography, it’s nonetheless a respectful nod to an era that’s all but gone. A time, when everyone knew what a telegram was, and when Kodachrome represented the height of photographic technology. Now, please stand still, and say, “cheese.”