Fantastic plastic: Moments from a Kodak Brownie 127

Cycling in England

Ashmore Park, England, 1964

 

I carried my Kodak Brownie 127 camera for nearly 20 years. The little Bakelite box camera sold for under £2 (less than $5 at the time) in the late ‘50s. It used 127 roll film — a medium format stock, between 35mm and the larger 120 professional film. A simple winder moved film from one spool to another. A red, circular window in the back of the camera enabled viewing of frame numbers. Each roll of 127 film accommodated eight 4X6.5 cm images.

The camera boasted a ‘Dakon’ 65mm plastic lens, resulting in a soft-focus look, particularly in the corners of the image. Nevertheless, the large negative recorded a lot of detail and, in good light, produced some good images. Other than a shutter release, there were no controls. The simple leaf shutter opened for 1/50th of a second. The lens had a fixed aperture of f/14.

In the spring of 1965, as my family prepared to emigrate to Canada, I began to document the surroundings I knew I’d soon be leaving behind: my bicycle, my extended family, nearby fields where I practiced cross-country running and cyclocross, and the housing estates I toured with my cousin on his somewhat oversized Fiorelli. A roll of negatives from a few months on includes an aerial snapshot of the Rocky Mountains — where I’d live and climb just a few years later — made on July 14, 1965, from the window of a DC-8 airliner as my family and I emigrated to a new home in British Columbia.

In the ‘70s I used it to document life in the Kootenays’ Purcell Mountains, mailing film to a lab in Vancouver for development and printing. Unfortunately, much of that was colour, with less exposure latitude and inferior archival qualities compared to black-and-white film. Nevertheless, as described below, the meeting of these old analog images with modern digital hardware and software produces some interesting results.

In the early ‘90s, I took some of the old black-and-white negs from the Brownie, loaded them into a glass carrier, and made silver-gelatin prints with my Besseler enlarger and Rodenstock lens.  More recently, I’ve scanned them with an Epson Perfection V750 Pro flatbed scanner (as seen in the appended gallery). In digitally preparing/restoring these photographs I have resisted the urge toward “perfection,” preferring to leave some artifacts, while fixing obvious flaws. I’d be misleading the reader, however, if I did not admit to some judicious use of Photoshop and Nik software to render the photographs as I visualized them, using original prints as a guide, if not a blueprint. Hell, modern snap shooters reach for retro filters to achieve looks like this!

Sadly, my old plastic buddy disappeared into the Purcells during my last sojourn. It would have had pride of place on my vintage camera shelf. Still, I have the memories.

 

Raymond Parker
  • November 20, 2014 - 3:28 pm

    Kathy Brown - you have been a photo documentarian for a long time! Cool pictures…ReplyCancel

    • November 20, 2014 - 6:12 pm

      Raymond Parker - Getting up there. I forget which photographer made the statement ― perhaps David Bailey ― that any photograph over 30 years-old can’t be all bad, but I’m counting on it. 🙂ReplyCancel

      • November 20, 2014 - 9:17 pm

        Kathy Brown - Thirty years ago I would have been using an Kodak Instamatic 110 – ReplyCancel

        • November 20, 2014 - 9:55 pm

          Raymond Parker - That was the only camera carried on a 3-month odyssey to the northern Yukon, in 1976. Unfortunately, most of those negs are gone.

          110 was an unfortunate foray into miniaturization, IMO, though I understand it’s making a comeback amongst “Lomography” enthusiasts. The reason the Brownie could make quite nice images, even with a plastic lens, is due to the film size: 127, which is basically medium-format. 110 is very hard to enlarge successfully above “drug store” print size.ReplyCancel

          • November 20, 2014 - 10:51 pm

            Kathy Brown - Interesting! I’ll have to look up Lomography – thanks Raymond!

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