Posts Tagged ‘vintage camera’

Kodak and Metadata

Thanks to Edward Snowden, everyone with a television, radio, Internet connection or newspaper subscription has heard of metadata.  Unfortunately, the innocuous metadata has received a bad rap when really the problem has been the questionable collection and storing of metadata.  Metadata or “data about data” has been around long before the term was coined in the late 60’s.  It may surprise readers to learn that Kodak was involved with data preservation 100 years ago.

In 1914 Kodak released their line of autographic film and cameras.  The roll film, invented by Henry Jacques Gaisman, had a thin piece of carbon paper backing that allowed the photographer to write a note directly on the film.  This note would be included between the images on the negative and violà, early metadata.  George Eastman saw the potential with the film and bought the invention for $300,000 (over $7 million today).  Kodak advertised it as “the greatest photographic advance in twenty years”.  The autographic cameras came with a metal stylus and a special camera back that included a small door that would be opened to write the note or date.  One year later, Kodak released upgraded camera backs with little doors for existing cameras that would allow them to use the new film (nearly a century before Apple would do the same).  The line was heavily advertised and many cameras with different price points were introduced.  Unfortunately, the idea never took off and the line was discontinued in 1932.  One of the reasons for this still rings true – users kept loosing the stylus!

Not surprisingly, I’ve wanted one of these cameras for my collection and recently got my hands on one.  It’s a 1a Autographic Kodak Series III, circa 1924 which originally sold for $32 (over $400 today) and it’s beautiful!  The bellows are still intact and the shutter still works.  It’s a lovely example of Art Deco design – most importantly – it has the original stylus!

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You Press the Button …

kodak

In 1888, George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera and for the first time, photographs could be taken by amateurs.  His original advertising slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” was not only catchy, it was completely accurate.  Indeed, there was very little this new breed of photographers could do other than press the shutter and advance the film by turning a key.  This included looking through a viewfinder; the original Kodak did not have one (but it did provide a guide to give you an idea of the coverage area). To take a photo, one would hold the camera at waist level, slightly against the abdomen for steadiness and click.  The camera was loaded with enough film for 100 photos (assuming that you did not overwind).  At the end of a roll, you sent the camera back to have the 2 ½ “ round photos developed and the camera reloaded with film.

Despite the $25 price tag (a hefty amount in 1888), the Kodak was a success. President Grover Cleveland owned one, although he reportedly did not advance the film on his first try and took 100 photos on one exposure!  The Kodak camera was also making an impact on society. In comments that echo the concerns of today’s online postings, The Hartford Courant lamented the fact that an average person cannot “indulge in any hilariousness” without the fear of photos surfacing in his Sunday school class.

Eastman realized the limitations of a $25 camera and in 1900 introduced the first Brownie camera.  Its cardboard frame and simple lens lowered the cost to an affordable $1 (plus 15¢ for film).  Snapshot photography was born and the Brownie camera line remained popular until its end in 1970.  Many photographers, including Ansel Adams, recall that a Brownie was their first camera. Adams received his from his parents on his first trip to Yosemite.

Over the years, Kodak has released 100’s of different cameras and models ranging from the über-popular (the Instamatic and the Pocket Instamatic) to the never should have been made (the Disc cameras). The Eastman Kodak Co. is expected to emerge from bankruptcy protection this summer.  It will not be the company it once was and probably will not sell cameras or film (it has already sold many of its patents).  It may even go the way of Polaroid and become only an administrative shell with a famous name.  Of course, this would be a shame, but what a name! Few companies have lasted as long and have had the impact of Kodak.  Ironically, the company responsible for adding “A Kodak Moment” to the lexicon did not realize that they were really selling memories, not film, cameras or printers.