A beautiful baby brings a smile to a dull day – Kodak Baby Brownie

Since New Year’s Day, when the weather wasn’t so bad, the weather has been terrible – dark, dull, drizzly and a whole lot more Ds. No matter how hard I looked I haven’t been able to see anything worth even one exposure on the precious film. It has been particularly disappointing as I spent a few hours on Saturday renewing the light seals on a 6x9cm back for the Mamiya Universal, and giving the 75mm Sekor a careful clean, with the hope of a better day Sunday, or Monday, or today, to have a short expedition with it. No such luck.

Kodak Baby Brownie

My American made Kodak Baby Brownie, dating between 1934 and 1941.

So, having dug out a daylight lamp from the dark depths (some more Ds) of the garage I rent (5 miles from my home) as I was putting away the Christmas decorations for another year, I thought I’d better try some indoor photography before I go crazy. I’ve never done a lot with artificial light, and I’ve never been very successful in my attempts at product photography, but I have in mind a small project to photograph each of my classic cameras, on film of course.

I decided to brighten up the day with a beautiful baby – just look at those Art Deco lines moulded in black Bakelite – and experiment with the lighting using a digital (Panasonic GF1) till I’m happy I can get something decently lit. Of course, she (I think she is a she!) doesn’t like the weather either, with a single speed of around 1/40th and a single aperture of about f11, or smaller. She needs a sunny day. Given that, she’ll produce pictures in my favourite 3×2 format, ie 6cm x 4cm.

Baby Brownie in two parts

She splits into two parts to load a film. The simple rotary shutter has one speed, about 1/40 sec

Rotating a catch in the base, the camera splits into two parts to load the film. The rotary shutter is very simple, tripped by moving a little lever at bottom front. It doesn’t have to be cocked. The film is wound on by a ratcheted knob on the top, positioning the sequence of frame numbers in the red window in the back (which with modern film, needs to be covered when not being used). There’s a simple pop up viewfinder on the top too. Everything is simple.

She also needs a 127 film and now that Efke are not producing them any more that’s not so simple. So in the summer, if we ever have such a thing, I’ll be trying to cut down some 120 film to fit.

My Baby was made by Eastman Kodak in the USA so it must date between 1934 and 1941. In 1938 the Baby Brownie Special was launched with ‘improvements’ – I suppose photographically they were but with an optical viewfinder added on top, a more complex shutter release, and a more complex mechanism to hold the two parts together, the beautiful simplicity of the original design, by Walter Dorwin Teague, was corrupted.

I’m sorry I cannot post some photographs taken with it, which should please the lomographers, but when I get a film and a sunny day I promise I will.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue with my lighting experiments until I feel confident enough to start the project to shoot all my classic cameras on medium format film.

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