I dimly remember an old black box camera in the house when I was very young. That would be in the late 1940’s. I remember playing with it. The shutter was tripped by a little piece of metal sticking out the side at the front. Fixed focus, roll film, no aperture adjustment, it was a pretty simple affair. I can’t remember what prompted me to ask for a camera for myself but for my birthday one year, in response to a question about what I would like for a gift, I asked for a camera. Why I did that is lost to memory. This was around the time I was 8 years old so I imagine it was in 1949 or 50. I had shown no interest in photography because she was surprised I was interested. In due course she bought me a Brownie Hawkeye. This was my first camera.
The Hawkeye was made by Kodak, first being sold in 1949. Production continued until1961. It used 620 film and produced a 2 1/4” by 2 1/4” negative. The manual that came with the camera said that images were sharp from 5 feet to infinity. (Sharp can be a relative term.)
For one so young it was a formidable instrument. The cost of film and the complexity of having it processed meant that I took few pictures. But I loved that camera and I spent hours looking inside it, playing with the shutter, and using the lens to cast images on tissue paper held across the film plane (back off the camera) and marveling at the projection. I learned much from my first camera that stayed with me for years.
I learned another lesson from that Brownie: I learned that in the right hands it could take a good picture. Any camera could. It was later on when I was developing and enlarging pictures that a friend approached me to make a print for him. He had taken a picture of his car and wanted me to do a print for him to frame. He had taken the picture with his Brownie Hawkeye.
I never did it, feeling that nothing good could come from such a camera. By then I was into 35mm cameras with superior optics and focusing ability. But one day he presented me with the picture he had obtained from the drug store (in those days you got your film developed and prints done through a drug store). There was his car, in sharp detail on tree lined city street. But the foreground and the trees overhead where gently and beautifully diffuse, almost glowing. There was a natural vignette. The car in all its detail was framed in a wonderful halo of light. It was beautiful.
Here was an image that we would photoshop for hours to get the effects he had achieved with his little Kodak. To this day, I know that good photographs come from a good photographer and that the camera is secondary.