THE RISE OF THE “SNAP SHOT”
Photography Made Democratic
By Bill Dobbins
Photography is so ubiquitous today that it takes an effort to think back to a time when getting your picture taken was a complex and expensive process. Photographic technology and processes have become more accessible since 1839 but it has been a slow evolution.
First there were daguerreotypes, then wet place colloidal photography, followed by the use of dry plates and then the introduction of film. All of this required the use of view cameras of different sizes and a demanded a great deal of expertise on the part of a photographer in terms of shooting the photos, developing the plates or film in the darkroom and making prints. This required the involvement of a trained, professional or highly advanced amateur photographer.
So if you wanted a portrait photo, a picture of your family or an event, you had to recruit the services of a photographic expert – and pay a fair amount for this service.
A major break through occurred when Eastman Kodak introduced the first transparent plastic roll film in 1889. This was the basis of all roll film to this day. The first roll film camera, the Kodak, was a box camera with 100 exposures was sold in 1988. The company followed this up with another camera in 1900, simple enough for a child to use, called the Brownie. This camera was as disruptive in its day as digital is to modern times.
The Brownie was a small, simple roll film camera with no focusing or exposure adjustment necessary. The original version was a leatherette covered card box with a wooden film carrier. It had a detachable film winding key that was no doubt lost quite often. This camera introduced the 2 1/4 inch square format still in wide use today.
According to The Brownie Camera information page: This camera is considered by many experts to be the most important camera ever manufactured. The reason is that it was produced so cheaply that anyone, not just professionals or people of means, could own it. Because it was so simple to use, anyone could operate it right out of the box.
The film was also cheap, even for 1900. For less than $2.00 anyone could buy The Brownie, a roll of film, and get it processed. The February 1900 Trade Circular lists a 6 exposure roll of transparent film at $0.15, paper-negative film at $0.10, and $0.40 for processing them!
The Brownie also showed the marketing genius of George Eastman. Eastman was first a film manufacturer, but he could see what bringing photography to the masses, especially marketing to young people, via cheap but durable cameras would mean for future film sales and processing. A camera in every home meant alot of film to be sold and processed. He could not have been more correct!
The first Brownie camera was shipped on Feb. 8, 1900 and gave birth to the snapshot.
The Brownie was followed by a whole range of easy to use roll film cameras from various manufacturers. So suddenly, instead of hiring a professional, anyone could shoot any photos they wanted of anything or anyone. The vast majority of these pictures were not quality, artistic images. They were “snap shots”
Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Tashen)
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