Shortly after my mom passed, I came across my grandparents’ Kodak Brownie. I also found some 6×9 negatives of my mom when she was a child in the 1930s. A thought crossed my mind – could this camera possibly be the one used to photograph my mom?

I discovered I had a Kodak Brownie No. 2 (Model E). This model was made from around 1917 – 1924, making it around 100 years old. To my surprise, the shutter seemed to fire (that was the only control apparent to me upon inspection). After a Google search, I discovered that this camera actually has three aperture settings set by a metal slider with three different-sized holes in front of the lens. Another tab also allows shutter control, though only 1/50 second or bulb mode. I was intrigued — could this 100-year-old relic still work?

Well, there was one thing — the viewfinders (yes, there are two, portrait and landscape) were so dirty I couldn’t see anything. I figured the lens probably wasn’t much better. After another trip to Google, I discovered how to remove the front panel to expose the viewfinders’ mirrors and inner lenses. Using the bulb mode, I was able to give the lens a quick clean too.

Loading film was tricky — the slots on modern plastic spools were too narrow to fit the take-up spool holder. Fortunately, an old metal spool was still in the camera, so I could use that as the take-up spool. I loaded some Fomapan 400 Action. In retrospect, that was probably not the best choice — I don’t think film stocks 100 years ago were anywhere near that fast, so the 1/50 second shutter speed was going to limit my subjects.

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I set off to nearby Wickford, RI, a charming little seaside village with many beautiful and historic buildings. Would this simple box camera still be able to produce images? Would they be recognizable? As you can see from the images, the answers are “Yes” and “Yes.”

I was actually quite amazed at how the images turned out. While cleaning, one of the viewfinder mirrors had came loose. Only one photo (intended to be of a painter with an easel in front of a church) was impacted.

It was a lot of fun trying out this photographic icon. Using the camera my grandparents used, and possibly used to photograph my mom back in the 1930s, gave me a new connection to all of them. They are all gone now, but this camera helps carry forward their legacy, both in the memories it captured back then and the inspiration it creates today.

~ Ross

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