Carefully lit to reveal all the flaws and scratches as well the features.
Bell & Howell is a US company that made movie cameras and projectors up until the 1970s. This model, the Zoomatic is the same model that captured the Zapruder film, the home movie that inadvertently captured the best sequence of US President, John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. As such, it is one of the most studied pieces of footage ever created in the 20th century. After a dispute with the US government over the rights to the film, Abraham Zapruder’s heirs received $16 million in 1999 to relinquish ownership of the film to the US National Archives.
Widely imitated but never bettered, the Rolleiflex was the camera of choice for Street and Fashion Photographers. Beautifully simple in its design, Rollei had all the hallmarks of a German manufactured gadget; precision, durability and high quality. It was released in 1929 and was awarded the Grand Prix at the World Exhibition in 1937 in Paris. It was used extensively during WWII because of its portability and durability. Less obtrusive than SLRs (Single Lens Reflex), the Rolleilfex’s TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) design was better suited to capturing a candid image. After the war it became the camera of choice for fashion and celebrity photographers and for the celebrities themselves.
This was the first camera to introduce an auto-exposure mode on its release in 1978. The Canon A1 could choose a shutter speed and aperture automatically. It came in only one colour; black. It was a top of the amateur range early SLR (single lens reflex) that Canon produced as an early salvo in its battle with Nikon and other camera brands.
The Nikon FM2 was so strong that proponents of it were known to deliberately drop it on the ground to show off its invincibility. It was a heavy, reliable camera that sold very well; presumably as most other cameras at the time were relying on electronic automation and lightweight construction as their key selling points. First produced in 1984, it cost about 40% more than other SLRs of the time. It had a mind blowing fastest shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second. It is completely operable without batteries; a rarity for any gadget that was in production up until 2001.
Leica, the quintessential street photography camera, began development in a small German town the early 1900s, but wasn’t released to market until 1925. Arguably more than any other, the Leica camera has shaped the way we see the twentieth century. And probably the greatest exponent of the Leica is French photojournalist, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson famously buried his Leica in a field in France during WWII, retrieving it in 1943 after having spent 35 months in a German prisoner or war camp. Pre Leica, photojournalism was hindered by the size of the cameras resulting in staid and formal imagery. Leica changed all that. In the words of an advertisement for the Series 3 Leica in 1956; by purchasing one of these cameras, you were buying into a “lifetime investment in perfect photography."
A happy-go-lucky camera for 1950s America, the Argus 75 is a pseudo TLR (Twin Lens Reflex). Unlike a true TLR like the Rolleiflex, the toy like Argus made photos that weren’t that sharp or true. But with contrasty tones, a bit of blur and vignette edges the Argus could be quite flattering.
As America was exporting its rock ‘n roll culture across the Atlantic in the ‘50s the Brits were exporting huge numbers of Kodak 127s back the other way. One of Kodak’s biggest sellers, the 127 was the mid century version of the famous Brownie. With its 6cm x 4cm image area the camera rode the wave of Superslide, a short-lived revival for the bigger film in the amateur market.
This was the camera the astronauts used to photograph the moon on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Brimming with technological advances, its fastest shutter speed was 1/500th of a second. Released in 1957, the 500 series initially received a luke warm response from the market because of its SLR (single lens reflex) design. However, it was a dependable, sharp and high-quality tool that became the workhorse camera to photograph fashion in the swinging ‘60s. A must have camera for professional photographers, its desirability and high price tag drew a line in the sand between the amateur and the serious pro shooter. Only 10 000 Hasselblad cameras per year are produced from it’s factory in Sweden.
Made of plastic and susceptible to light leaks, darkening of the edges and film-winding problems, the Diana Flash was a novelty camera of the 1960s and 70s. It was constructed quite flimsily and decorated with fake features that routinely fell off. Creating fuzzy photographs that was fine if you were looking for a dreamy lo-fi look. You can still buy a modern version of the Diana Flash.
Following World War I, cameras needed to be smaller, faster and easier to use. The British made Ensign Carbine had a choice of 3 shutter speeds and used the more economical roll film rather than single sheet film. This was the camera you took if you were going on an expedition.
The history of photography is firmly embedded in the 20th century. As companies scrambled for market share, technological advancements were driven by marketing to the masses rather than hobbyists and professional photographers. Increasing the ‘speed’ or sensitivity of film meant that most users could press a button and probably get a good photo.
Spy vs Spy
If you were a post WWII Cold War Spy you wouldn’t be without a Minox camera. It was originally conceived as an inexpensive small camera, in Germany back in 1922 but failed the low cost characteristic. Instead of being the cheap camera everyone could afford, it became the cool little camera that everyone wanted. It’s reputation as a spy camera made it desirable. This Minox 35 with its signature retractable lens cover was the smallest camera on the market that would take 35mm film in the 1970s.
Like Kodak’s invention, the Brownie was the family camera for family snaps; super 8 is synonymous with home movies. Launched in 1965 by Eastman Kodak the film came in a pre-loaded cartridge with 2 ½ minutes worth of footage. Kodachrome was the first true colour film for both stills and movies that sadly, since 2011 is no longer able to be processed.
With a unique process that gave the user instant gratification, Polaroid totally re-invented the photography process. The SX-70, a collapsible model from its company’s heyday counts Andy Warhol as it’s most famous user. It was the best selling camera of the 1977 Christmas season. Polaroid has a checkered corporate history. Despite possessing a unique product in the photography market, the company has been twice bankrupted.
Click here to buy a print of Warhol
A 1950s point and shoot camera. It was a pseudo twin lens reflex only useful during the day. It took 620 roll film and produced 2½ x 2½ inch negatives.
Between 1930 and 1960, many parties, events and crime scenes were illuminated by a fold out petal flashgun. Coupled with the parabolic shaped fold out petal reflector the blue flash bulbs expired after a single use. Japanese brand Ricoh produces watches and photocopiers as well as cameras like this 1960s rangefinder.
Houghtons Ltd was one of Britain’s most successful camera manufacturers. This Ensign dates from around the First World War. Exposing single sheets of film at a time meant you had to be careful about your photo choices. The distinctive bellows were a remnant of earlier, larger and more cumbersome cameras but they allowed the camera to fold away and fit into a neat flat pack.
The camera for families and summer holidays. Kodak made photography accessible for everyone with a simple point and shoot camera. When the first Box Brownie was released in 1900 you could pick one up for 1 US dollar. The Box Brownie evolved over time, constantly re-inventing itself during the course of the century. The Six 20 is a 1940s version of Kodak’s masterpiece.