I first had Brownies on the brain in the wake of Kodak’s unfortunate recent bankruptcy announcement. I grew up near Kodak headquarters in Rochester, NY, and always enjoyed the displays of old camera models in the Eastman House’s galleries, from gorgeous art deco enamels to primary-color plastics. Friends and I speculated on how more could’ve been done to leverage Kodak’s nostalgia value to appeal to niche markets and hipsters. I dreamt of a Brownie brand revival, apps emulating classic film stocks, Beau Brownie iPhone cases. (I even channeled this enthusiasm into a Spoonflower fabric). Browsing through Brownie fan sites online, I wondered about obtaining one of my own; but reading about technical details and respooling film, I initially thought that getting a model in functional order would be too arcane an effort.
The idea next came to my attention after a visit to the newly-opened Lomography gallery in Manchester. I started pining for some lo-fi medium format film goodness. The Dianas were tempting, but I waffled over the cost. My thoughts again drifted to the old box Brownies.
Enter the Real Camera Co, a few blocks away from the Lomography shop in Manchester. I noticed their box camera selection along the top of a shelf on one visit, and was amazed to find out how reasonably-priced they were. Though all the available Brownies took 620 spools, they had other box camera styles that used regular 120 film, no respooling required. I was convinced! I resisted the urge to take them all, and chose an Ensign Ful-Vue, a British make of box camera. According to online sources, this boxy style dates to the early 1940s.
The camera got its first try out on a Jubilee week roadtrip we took through the south of England. It was wheeled out for tourist shots of Hever Castle, Stonehenge, Durdle Door and Glastonbury Tor. The point-and-shoot mechanism couldn’t be simpler, but there was a tiny thrill in first seeing the reflected image come into focus through the viewfinder. When we returned, I turned in the first finished roll for processing, and spent the wait time worrying about whether anything would come out at all. Had I loaded the film correctly? Would everything be a frightful blur? Were there major light leaks going undetected after all this time?
Happily, there was nothing to worry about – nearly all our bright outdoor shots turned out well (although indoor shots were, somewhat predictably, a lost cause). Now that I’ve seen how these rolls turned out, I’m looking forward to trying out other films with it, in higher ISOs and colour. And though I’m enamoured of the Ensign, I won’t stop keeping an eye out for a Beau Brownie No. 2 to call my own.
A note on processing: Negatives were scanned by the developing lab. They have had post-processing adjustments in Photoshop. Digital edits have not altered the content or character of the images beyond what could reasonably be achieved by darkroom processing.