As I’ve begun to process our Early Photography Collection, one item immediately piqued my interest. The collection is comprised mostly of commercial photography projects: a lot of daguerreotype, ambrotype, carte de visite, and a few tintype portraits which were taken by photographers for hire in studios across the United States, as well as a large group of stereographic postcards from Underwood & Underwood from the Middle East, Korea, and Japan which were reproduced and sold for parlor entertainment. So when I saw an album embossed, “Amateur Photographs,” I was excited to see the personal images, taken for fun rather than for profit.
In 1888, George Eastman first introduced the Kodak Camera, which allowed anyone who could afford the camera to simply snap photographs, return the entire camera to the factory, and then receive their developed prints in the mail. This revelation meant that people didn’t need extra equipment and they didn’t need to deal with the tedious process of developing. Eastman rolled out the Brownie Camera in 1900, which was the same concept marketed towards children and sold for $1 (adjusted for inflation, that would be around $25 to $30 today). Our collection’s amateur album has photos dated between 1903 and 1908, so it’s likely that they were captured by some version of those early Kodak cameras.
On the first page of the album, along with dates and locations recorded in neat cursive, one caption identifies the photographer: “Taken by Harold.” The handwriting is consistent throughout, and no other credit is given, so it is safe to assume Harold took most, if not all, of the pictures in the album. The pages feature Harold’s family, farm animals, special places, a boat outing, and plenty of baby pictures! View the slideshow above to see highlights.
As I cataloged each photo, a few of the captions started to seem a little off. One line identifies a healthy man, no older than 60 years as “Grandpa,” which I figured Harold could call is own father for the sake of the next generation. One simply says, “Papa & Mamma on the pond at Royalston,” which, again, I figured could be Harold using the family names used by his children rather than documenting his own relationship to the subjects. I was really confused, though, when another image showing a young girl and a woman read, “My girl and my teacher, fifth grade.” So, why would someone call their daughter’s teacher “my teacher”?
The answer, as it turns out, is because she was his teacher, and the girl pictured was not his daughter, but his girlfriend. On the last couple pages of the album, Harold features a couple pictures of “Ellicer,” who appears to be the same girl as with his teacher, holding her pet rabbit and then a guinea pig. Then, a photograph of a young boy in the same handwriting is titled, “Me and my guinea pig.” OH! The other captions make sense now! It seems our amateur photographer, Harold, was about 7 to 12 years old.
“CPI Inflation Calculator.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm.
Fineman, Mia. “Kodak and the Rise of Amateur Photography.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oct. 2004, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kodk.htm.
Kodak Brownie Camera. The Franklin Institute, http://www.fi.edu/history-resoures/kodak-brownie-camera.