The People’s Camera

Small portable cameras transformed photography as the manufacturing of film became profitable, popular, and affordable for the average consumer. The invention of the Kodak box camera, known also as The Brownie, at the beginning of the twentieth century broadened photography’s reach. Prior to this it was expensive to have your photo taken and it would need to be done in a commercial photography studio.

The Brownie had a fixed focus, no viewfinder and film on board to capture only 6 to 12 photographs. Quite different to the unlimited number of photographs we can take with our phones today and without the option to preview and delete. The Brownie’s advertising slogan was ‘You push the button, we do the rest’. The actual cameras were then posted to Kodak where the images were developed and sent back to the customer. The Brownie made photography affordable and accessible, enabling people to take spontaneous or informal photographs, giving rise to amateur photographers everywhere.

Over the next 70 years Kodak, along with other companies, designed new models of small hand-held cameras, including the development of the Polaroid camera which used instant film. Cameras became smaller and easier to use and carry. The most common ‘point and shoot’ cameras had the capacity to hold 35mm film, until the arrival of digital cameras in the mid 1990s which made film redundant, and stored photographs on SD cards instead.

  • Draw a portrait of your camera and write a description of all the things your camera has seen.
  • Look at the history of advertising campaigns for Polaroid. What do you notice about their use of images and text? With social media platforms constantly evolving, in 10 years time Instagram and the like might not even exist. Create an advertising slogan for your favourite social media platform.