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The proliferation of amateur snapshot photography and its impact on contemporary society in the 20th century can be traced to pivotal developments in both camera technology and the marketing of the medium to the masses at the end of the 19th. Entrepreneur George Eastman (1854-1932) began his career in banking but soon turned his budding interest in photography toward professional ends, founding the Eastman Dry Plate Company (later Eastman Kodak Company) in Rochester, New York in 1880. While at the forefront of the manufacture of dry plates in the United States, Eastman realized photography's cumbersome equipment and processing requirements was daunting for potential users and strove to introduce a radically simplified process. Although the paper roll film holder Eastman soon devised (along with other manufacturers) helped to supplant the dry plate negative, the small 'detective' camera he first equipped with this new type of film in 1886 was still too complicated and expensive to achieve broad success in the marketplace. By 1888, Eastman created a new version of the hand-held roll film camera—a small wooden box fitted with a simple lens and loaded with film capable of recording 100 circular images, 2 ½ inches in diameter. The name Kodak was coined for this latest manifestation of the hand camera—chosen by Eastman for the authoritative look of the word's two letter 'Ks' and for the ease of its pronunciation in various foreign languages. Yet the widespread success of this camera can be attributed to neither its catchy name or even wholly to its innovative film format, but rather to Eastman's groundbreaking marketing of the total photographic endeavor. In addition to being simple enough that "anybody, man, woman or child, who has sufficient intelligence to point a box straight and press a button" could make successful photographs, the pre-loaded Kodak camera was returned intact after the exposures were made to the Eastman Company for development and printing and was finally sent back to the customer re-loaded and ready for use (Eastman in Coe and Gates, The Snapshot Photograph, 1977, page 17). Eastman's ingenious marketing strategy, encapsulated in the company's slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest," and laid the foundation for a widespread democratization of photographic practice in the decades to follow (Ford, ed., The Story of Popular Photography, 1989, page 62).

Yet the Kodak camera was still relatively expensive—at the cost of $25 in 1888, it was well outside the range of many, and by 1898, the Eastman Company introduced a less expensive, easy-to-operate camera aimed at further broadening the pool of amateur photographers. This simple box camera, called the Brownie, was devised by Frank A. Brownell, who had designed and manufactured cameras for the Eastman Company since 1885 and who would be its chief camera manufacturer until 1907. The Brownie was made of wood and jute board with an imitation leather covering and was equipped with a simple fixed-focus lens and rotary shutter. It was capable of producing successful exposures in relatively strong sunlight with subjects in focus from several feet to around 100 feet. The Brownie had no viewfinder but was marked with V-shaped sight lines on the top of the box which aided, when held at waist level, in aiming the camera toward the subject. The Brownie was pre-loaded with roll film, and yielded six 2 1/4 inch square images per strip which could be tracked through a built-in red indexing window. At the cost of $1 (film included), the Brownie did indeed satisfy the demand for a markedly less expensive camera accessible to the amateur practitioner. With developing, printing, and mounting of prints equally affordable at 40 cents, sales of the Brownie camera soared, reaching more than 100,000 cameras by the end of 1900.

By 1910, approximately one-third of all Americans owned a camera—that many of these were Brownie cameras must be attributed to a significant factor beyond its technical simplicity—namely Eastman Company's deliberate marketing of the new camera to children, both through a barrage of advertisements and in the very naming of the camera itself. Brownie was very much a household word in turn-of-the-century America before becoming the name of Eastman's latest camera. It described a type of small elves culled from popular legend to occupy the pages of author and illustrator Palmer Cox's children's stories. First published in the juvenile magazine, St. Nicholas, the brownies were further immortalized in numerous books, each of which bore the same introductory description of these creatures:
Brownies, like fairies and goblins, are imaginary little sprites, who are supposed to delight in harmless pranks and helpful deeds. They work and sport while weary households sleep, and never allow themselves to be seen by mortal eyes.... (Cox, The Brownies: Their Book, 1887, n.p.)

This description of the Brownie, when associated with the Eastman's camera, speaks both to common assumptions about the nature of photography as revealing of something of the intangible aspect of the visual world unseen by the naked eye, as well as to its fit with Eastman's targeted users—children. The original 1900 packaging of the Brownie camera featured one of Cox's mischievous creatures playing against a colorful red, yellow and green background on all four sides of the carton. In addition, these same brownie characters pitched the notion of photographing with the camera as playful toy in advertisements for the ten years from 1900 to 1910. Ultimately, this manufactured relationship surfaced in one of Cox's own illustrations, which featured his character armed with the camera bearing his name.

In addition to the marketing of the Brownie camera with this popular children's character, Eastman Company also appealed to youth as potential photographers through extensive illustrated advertisements. In fact, it is estimated that images of children, engaged with this new photographic 'toy,' previously known to many of them solely within the formal confines of the portrait studio, comprised more than one-third of all those advertisements produced by the company between 1917 and 1932. Reproduced extensively in popular juvenile magazines of the day such as St. Nicholas, The Youth's Companion, American Boy and Boy's Life, as well as in the professional dealer publication, Kodak Trade Circular, such Brownie advertisements were often accompanied by the slogan, 'Any Schoolboy or Girl Can Make Good Pictures with the Brownie Camera.' Ads produced after 1910 often focused on young boys in particular, targeting their potential for a more sophisticated understanding of the camera's advanced features and capabilities, as opposed to the carefree leisurely practice of the 'Kodak Girls' of Eastman's earlier campaigns. Eastman Company expanded upon the marked success of such campaigns with various special promotions such as a Brownie Camera Club. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the company, Eastman offered young girls and boys a free camera for their twelfth birthday during 1930—specifically, a unique variation of the No. 2 Hawkeye Brownie covered in tan imitation leather and marked with a gold foil anniversary seal. In just a few days in May 1930, approximately 550,000 of these special edition Brownies were distributed to children.

Following the first Brownie introduced to the public in 1900, to the last camera which carried this name, nearly 100 different models were produced. The first variation, simply called the No. 2 Brownie, was introduced in 1901 and varied from the original (thereafter call the No. 1) in several ways. The No. 2 Brownie was equipped with a reflective viewfinder as well as three aperture options and produced 2 1/4 by 3 1/4 inch images. While this second version of the Brownie cost twice as much as its predecessor, it was extremely popular and served as the model for numerous variations in design produced through the 1950's. In fact, by 1930, the price of the No. 2 Brownie was not prohibitive, representing only 15% of the average weekly wage of Eastman Company's factory employee.

The vastly popular Nos. 1 and 2 Brownies, widely imitated by competing companies in both the United States and abroad, were also produced in an ongoing line by Eastman Company in the coming decades. In Great Britain, George Houghton and Sons devised a version of the Brownie in 1901 called the No. 1 Scout, while the American company ANSCO sold a competing line of cameras bearing the name Buster Brown, beginning in 1906. Those variations of the original Brownie camera produced by Eastman Company included several larger, and more expensive, folding camera models, produced between 1904 and 1926. In 1934, designer Walter Dorwin Teague created the Baby Brownie in a series of smaller models equipped with 127 roll film. The design of the Baby Brownie embodied both newly evolving capabilities in the molding of those plastics used to form the camera body, as well as the sleek, streamline aesthetics of the era. Specialty editions of already existing models were produced throughout the 1930's, including the Boy Scout Brownie (marketed in 1932 and 1933-34) which featured the insignia of the American Boy Scouts against a geometric design on the camera's front panel as well as a similar model commemorating the World's Fair (marketed in 1939-40). Other embellishments included Brownie models produced in a range of colors, such as the No. 2 Portrait Brownie. In addition to being outfitted with a special adjustable lens for close-up portraiture, this camera marketed especially to women was available in six colors as well as the standard black.

Although Eastman Company's initial advertisements of the Brownie cameras emphasized its perfect suitability for children, such promotion likewise underscored the camera's inherent simplicity for all amateur users, young and old alike, as well as its natural associations with the notions of adventure and imagination. Its removal of the need to understand the technical aspects of photographic processing and printing furthermore helped to introduce the snapshot to a vast array of new practitioners, who produced a myriad of images of family life, travel, leisure, and work, largely marked by an informal spontaneity as yet unseen in the history of the medium. A new element of the everyday entered into photography's vernacular, which stood in opposition to both the rare occasion of the family portrait and the elevated concerns of the photographic artist.

Yet the snapshot's thorough saturation in contemporary popular culture, with its origins in these turn-of-the-century amateur practitioners, has been met with both chagrin and critical interest. While considered far outside the purview of the art establishment by some, the last few decades have likewise seen the snapshot made the subject of scholarly attention and museum exhibition, while the simple aesthetic potential of the Brownie camera has been utilized by artists such as photographer William Christenberry.

Karen Jenkins

See also: Vernacular Photography; Eastman Kodak Company; Camera:Point and Shoot

Further Reading
Coe, Brian, Kodak Cameras: The First Hundred Years, Hove, East Sussex : Hove Foto Books, 1988

Coe, Brian and Paul Gates, The Snapshot Photograph: The Rise of Popular Photography 1888- 1939, London: Ash & Grant, Ltd., 1977

Cox, Palmer, The Brownies: Their Book, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1887

Ford, Colin, editor, The Story of Popular Photography, North Pomfret, Vermont: Trafalgar Square Publishing, 1989

Lothrop, Jr., Eaton S., A Century of Cameras: From the Collection of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, New York: Morgan & Morgan, Inc./Dobbs Ferry, 1973

West, Nancy Martha, "Operated by Any School Boy or Girl: The Marketing of the Brownie Camera," In Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia, Charlottesville & London: University Press of Virginia, 2000

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