amous photographers were once, dare I say, amateurs. Whether their kit was gifted or purchased with their own hard earned money, their time was spent studying and experimenting with light, subjects, and developing their own film. They had to start somewhere; and, according to a vast number of interviews, books, and personal accounts, a number of photographers share the same fondness for one particular camera that, for them, started it all: the Brownie.
First introduced in 1900, the Brownie, a line of cameras made by Eastman Kodak, is often credited as the camera that ushered in the age of modern photography. Its ease of use and affordable price tag made the many models of the Brownie the choice consumer camera from the turn of the century until its final run in the late 80’s. As a result, millions of people would amass and fill photo album after photo album of, the cleverly coined, snapshots.
Being a mass marketed product for nearly a century, it’s no surprise that the brownie would introduce generation after generation to the artform, including those who would, later, make a name for themselves in the industry.
Here are four photographers (plus an unexpected bonus) whose first camera was the beloved Brownie.
Considered the father of photojournalism, Cartier-Bresson would take his first photos as a child using a Brownie. His subjects were the subject of many first-time photographers: family during the holidays.
The recently discovered Maier captured the attention of the international art world when her negatives were found after John Maloof, a photographer, purchased the contents of a storage unit at auction. Through the reconstruction and archival of her work, it was found that Maier began taking photographs in 1949 with a Kodak Brownie box camera.
In 1916, during a family trip to Yosemite National Park, a fourteen-year old Ansel Adams would receive his first camera, a Kodak Brownie box camera, as a gift from his father. Along with being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1966, Ansel’s photographs continue to be widely reproduced as posters, and in books, calendars, and on a wide variety of merchandise.
Mary Ellen Mark
Before earning over 50 film credits, which include Apocalypse Now and Carnal Knowledge, as set photographer, and even before she would become a fine art Major, Mark found photography with Box a Brownie at nine years old. In her career, her work would be featured in major publications, including Life, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair.
Bonus: Stanley Kubrick
Widely known as a celebrated and respected film director, the early days of Kubrick’s career have roots in photography. As told in his 2008 memoir, American Prince, Tony Curtis fondly remembered his time spent with Kubrick during the filming of Spartacus:
“Stanley Kubrick told me that ever since he’d been a little kid, he had loved taking pictures with his black and white brownie camera.”
Before Kubrick would direct 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, or Barry Lyndon, he worked as a photographer for LOOK Magazine.