Photography has come a long way in the past 200 years. It’s hard to believe in today’s age of the selfie, photo sharing apps and Internet photo albums that there was a time when a person might only have been photographed once in a lifetime.
We forget that not that long ago, digital cameras, one-hour film processing, 35mm film and Polaroids were state of the art technology.
What is a brownie? “‘Brownies’ were good-natured little spirits or goblins of the fairy order,” The Ladies’ Home Journal said in 1892. “They were all little men, and appeared only at night to perform good and helpful deeds or enjoy harmless pranks while weary households slept, never allowing themselves to be seen by mortals.”
A Short History of Photography
The first successful photography appeared in the 1820s. The photographs took days to develop.
It wasn’t until 1839, with the introduction of the daguerreotype, that photos could be processed much faster, and photography became a practical activity. However, exposure time was still very long, and subjects had to sit still for several minutes. This is why some subjects appear blurry in old photographs and why no one smiled.
Daguerreotypes used glass plates, not film. The photographs were expensive, and most people didn’t have the funds to be photographed often. Some weren’t photographed until death.
Many improvements followed, including color photography, and in 1884 film was introduced. Modern photography was born.
The Birth of the Snapshot
When the Brownie was introduced, it made photography possible for the masses. The camera was a simple device: a cardboard box, film and a lens. It sold for $1. A roll of film, capable of taking six photos, sold for 15 cents. Processing was 40 cents.
In 1901, the Brownie Number 2 debuted. It cost $2. An aluminum body version also was available as well was a color photography version. Brownie Number 2 remained in production until the 1930s.
The Brownie is credited with creating the snapshot. Exposure speeds had increased enough for photographers to capture everyday moments. The shorter exposure time meant a photographer’s subjects no longer had to sit still for minutes at a time and could to smile.
Suddenly anyone could be a photographer and document their lives.
During World War I, the snapshot allowed soldiers to take photos of their loved ones with them, and it allowed those on the home front to keep soldiers updated on what was going on at home.
Here are six snapshots taken during the 1910s, many no doubt using the Brownie.
Updated: 15 October 2020