Cameras & Fashion
Today, cameras are ubiquitous objects found in mobile device. Beyond the necessity of the phone and the ability to capture still and moving images, we often select devices and cases of particular colors and styles that are appealing to us. Beyond the necessity of the object, we treat them as fashion accessories. The same can be said of cameras throughout history. As the technology has changed, so has the desire to have cameras in a range of colors, designs, and cases. In this exhibition, we share a brief timeline of fashionable cameras.
The Bourquin dates to about 1845, and is a French-made single box style camera fitted with a Petzval-type potrait lens. The dragons mounted on either side were a unique type of customization, and likely added to hold the attention of the subject, a sort of daguerre-era version of "watch the birdie".
Soho Tropical Reflex
Designed in 1905 by A. Kershaw, this camera was customized with French polished teakwood and brass hardware. The fashionable red leather bellows are a unique feature and it has novel mechanical elements for the period like a retracting relfex mirror.
The Kodak Ensemble, introduced in 1929, was a Kodak Petite camera packaged in an attractive suede fabric-covered strap-style hard case, with a mirror, matching lipstick, powder compact with rouge, and change pocket. The Petite used No. 127 roll film to produce 1⅝ x 2½-inch images. It came in three colors: beige, green, and rose. The cosmetics were supplied by The House of Tre Jur. The House of Tre Jur was a popular, and nearly ubiquitous, cosmetics brand in the United States from the 1920s through 1940s.
The Kodak Coquette, introduced in 1930, included a Kodak Petite camera, like the Ensemble of the previous year. This time, the color selection was strictly blue. The exterior was a striking face with a geometric art deco pattern in two tones of blue enamel and nickel designed by Walter Dorwin Teague. Packaged with a matching lipstick and compact, the Coquette aimed at high style and was marketed as being for “the smart, modern girl…a bit of Paris at your Kodak dealer’s.”
The Gift Kodak, introduced in 1930, like the Ensemble and the Coquette, was aimed at the holiday gift-giving season. Unlike the other two, the Gift Kodak had a distinctly masculine appeal. A special version of the 1A Pocket Kodak with a bed and shutter plate design in brown and red enamel and polished nickel. The camera was covered in brown leatherette, and the gift box was an ebony-finished cedar box.
Kodak Vest Pocket
The Kodak Vest Pocket was first introduced in 1912, and advertised as being "so flat and smooth and small as to go readily into a vest pocket." When closed, this camera was one inch thick. Over the next decades would come in a range of colors like this blue and purple model designed by Walter Dorwin Teague.
The Beau Brownie was introduced in 1930 and offered a more fashionable alternative to the standard black model. They have two-tone enamel front plates decorated in a geometric Art Deco style, designed by Walter Dorwin Teague. The Beau Brownie was available in five color combinations, including black, brown, blue, green and rose. They were encased in a faux-leather casing.
The molded bakelite body of this camera was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague to fit the classic Art Deco style of the 1930s. The Baby Brownie was released in 1934, and had a simple design with a folding open finder, and strong vertical banding.
The Kodak Bantam Special, introduced in 1936, was another striking design by Walter Dorwin Teague in his trademark Art Deco style. It displayed strong horizontal bright metallic lines on a black enamel die-cast body.
Released in 1980, the Nikon F3 was designed in consultation with famed Italian auto designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro. Giugiaro is widely recognized as one of the finest and most prolific car designers, including designs for Bugatti, Aston Martin, BMW, Lamborghini, Lotus, Maserati, and more. The Nikon F3 design reflects similar design that he was using in automobiles at that time, known as Giugiaro’s signature “Folded Paper” aesthetic. This design style focuses on flat surfaces, sharp edges, and geometric features.
Rolleiflex 2.8F Aurum
The Rolleiflex 2.8F Aurum of 1983 was finished in black with alligator leather and gold-plated metal parts. Other than the finish and trim, it was a standard 2.8F model, long regarded by professionals and serious amateurs alike as one of the finest cameras produced anywhere.
This online exhibition was curated by Todd Gustavson, with help from Kate Meyers Emery. Text was edited from Gustavson, Todd (2011). 500 Cameras. Sterling Publishing Co, New York.
For more information on the George Eastman Museum Technology Collection please visit eastman.org/technology