We have a small collection of orphaned cameras at our gallery, ‘eightyfour’ in Wanstead, London. Some of the cameras are retired ones that I used for my work on newspapers and magazines, others I picked up on my travels and some were bought just because they are interesting. There is another category, they are the ones that are donated by friends, customers and even by people who wander in off the street having heard of us. We have old, not so old, poor condition, good condition, 35mm,120 roll film, Polaroid, even a ‘plate’ camera. In fact we have a little bit of everything. I thought an occasional story about them may be of interest to some, so this is the first.
As this year is the one hundredth anniversary of the 1914/1918 World War I thought I would start with this Vest Pocket Kodak camera which became known as ‘the soldiers camera’ during those war years. Although unofficial cameras were banned from the trenches, because of it’s small size many Vest Pocket cameras made it to the front. Strong, made from aluminium with a bellows so that it could be folded flat when not in use, measuring only 2.5 x 4.75 x1 inches, it could have been designed for a soldier’s tunic pocket. We can only guess at the pictures that they would have recorded, some of horror some of comaraderie.
It sold originally for $6 and nearly two million were made between 1912 and 1926. The first used 127 size film but from 1915 Autographic A-127 film was needed, why the change of film ? Well after taking a picture you could open a little ‘trap door’ on the back of the camera and write a one line message with the provided stylus on the backing paper of the film, thus transferring it to the space on the film between the negatives. They say things go around in circles, in this respect you can do the same thing on some of todays digital cameras by typing the information into the IPTC field rather than writing between negatives.
This particular camera is engraved, The Westminster Camera Exchange in Victoria Street, London SW, presumably the seller, I’m not sure how many of us today would like the name of the camera shop engraved on our Nikons, Canons etc.
As you can see from the photographs the camera is not in great condition cosmetically but the shutter appears to work, maybe a little slow but quite often that’s only due to lack of use. The bellows seem fine although you can never be quite sure until it has had the ‘torch test’. I’ll give it a good clean at some stage and try to find a roll of 127 film on the internet, I’d love to get a really memorable picture with it.
The camera was given to us by a lovely lady who lived in Wanstead, it had belonged to her father. I have been fortunate enough to see some of his photographs, lovely, mounted 20 x 16 inch bromide prints of landscapes and his family on holiday. Magnificent pictures carefully composed and thought out, I suspect never a wasted frame. I doubt this camera ever saw war, but I know in it’s own way it recorded precious moments.
Technical info: For the above pictures I used a Nikon D7000 camera with the 60mm f2.8 Nikon macro lens. I used a Nikon SB900 flash unit for the lighting.