Magazine

The camera that captured readers' lives

Rod Kruger's family car, a Ford Prefect Image copyright Rod Kruger

A recent Magazine article looked at one of the most important cardboard boxes ever made - the Brownie camera. Created by Kodak, it turned ordinary people into photographers for the first time - the snapshot was born. Readers sent us some of their own photos taken with Brownies, new and old.

In the article Stephen Dowling reported how the original model of 1900 was followed by dozens more over the next 80 or so years. Judging from your photos it seems plenty of people are still using Brownies of various vintages today - there's even a mystery to be solved and someone looking for old school friends.

Rod Kruger, Strubens Valley, South Africa: Like most families, our Brownie photos show us as kids. Taken in the 1950s they are typical of the lifestyle. The car (pictured above) is an English-made Ford Prefect that my insane parents took their two whiny kids to Durban on holiday in, several times from Johannesburg - a trip that took three days in an age when all others went over night by train. The car may have been perfect for an English village but was seriously under-powered for South Africa, and boiled on every up-hill. The lady (below) is my mom Phyllis, who emigrated to South Africa with her parents when she was seven. I am the boy and the girl is my sister Karen. The photo was taken on holiday at Brighton Beach near Durban.

Image copyright Rod Kruger

Victor Morgan, Caerleon: I always wanted a camera and I bought that 620 Brownie around 1946 in Bombay for six rupees - nine shillings. I had to save up for it. It's a very simple camera to use and I've still got the lens. I was a regular soldier stationed in India and we were sent to Razmak in Waziristan (now Pakistan) near the border with Afghanistan - it was sort of frontier territory. We were cut off and they put the big guns up there, the infantry guarded the road for us to go through in our vehicles - they'd open it up once a fortnight. I took this photo circa 1947. That 620 Brownie served me well - everybody was willing to be photographed, though people weren't so used to cameras in those days.

Image copyright Victor Morgan

Lawrence Harris, Stowmarket: I was 17 years old when I took these pictures from my bedroom window just outside Plymouth in 1961. The skies were wonderfully clear and I had been given a Brownie Box camera by my grandfather who had bought himself a new camera. For sky pictures it was essential to have the camera fixed, hence the chemical stand, and I used a shutter lead to hold the shutter open for an arbitrary time. Those were the longest seconds ever. I had been warned by people who were experimenting with astro-photography that I should never hand over such a film to the chemist because they would process the film and declare the results to have failed and would merely provide a replacement film. After exposing a few images, I processed the film at home in my darkened bedroom and was delighted with this, my first ever astro pic. It already revealed stars that were fainter than the naked eye could see. I eventually worked as a professional astronomer at the Radio and Space Research Station in Slough from 1968.

Image copyright Lawrence Harris

Gill Lucas, Worcester: While cycling in Spain last year, my colleague Nigel bought a Brownie from a village flea market - when he inspected it later, he found inside a shot roll of film. On returning to the UK, he had the film processed and on the film were shots obviously taken in England which was quite bizarre. We contacted the Triumph Herald register and Greeves motorcycle associations, but had no luck on finding any information on the rider and how the camera made its way to Spain. The car number plate suggests it was from the Northampton area.

Image copyright Gill Lucas

Jaffer Bhimji, Hunton Bridge: I took a picture of Princess Margaret with my beloved Kodak Brownie in my school days when she visited my home town, Mwanza, in Tanzania, East Africa around 1956/7 - it was then known as Tanganyika. I was 12 when I was given my first new Kodak Brownie camera - I loved it so much that I was reluctant to use it. Someone made a comment at my camera club that I must have fallen in love with the camera first and then photography - that sounds just right!

Image copyright Jaffer Bhimji

Merryl See Tai, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Our family (parents, older brother and sister) left Trinidad and Tobago in 1959 and travelled to England by boat. I was eight years old at the time and entered primary school. My brother joined the RAF and my sister entered secondary school. The Brownie 127 Model 2, was a gift from my father shortly after we had arrived. I remember keeping it spotlessly clean, practising, without film, to hold it firmly and steadily and to gently squeeze the shutter button rather than pressing it. My mother and I returned to Trinidad and Tobago in 1962. I was 10 years old in this picture taken by my sister in 1960/61 in our back garden at 43 West End Lane, West Hampstead, London.

Image copyright Merryl See Tai

This picture of my classmates at St Mary's Church of England on West End Lane near Kilburn High Road is of great significance to me - taken by me at 11 years of age in mid 1962, it was just before we left England and I have never seen any of them again, notwithstanding a few efforts to trace them and an actual visit to the school and general area in 2005.

Image copyright Merryl See Tai

John Reardon, Waltham, MA, US: I have a photo taken in the early 1950s, perhaps late 1940s. My father, John Reardon, was in the US Army stationed on the border of the new Iron Curtain in Trieste, Italy. He was out on training and he took a photo of himself smiling in a foxhole/ dug-in position. He has a good few photos taken around the same time of manoeuvres in mountainous areas with snow, so I am guessing they were near to the Austrian border somewhere. When I went through this stack of photos, I found it funny that he took a selfie 60 years before selfies became cool.

Image copyright John Reardon

Eric Whitfield, Redcar: This picture was taken in 1949, at a guess I was five years old. I was walking along a country path with my mother and friends at the time, and the mole suddenly showed up crossing our path. It was a lucky find as they normally never show themselves for very long, but I managed to grab it. My mother took the photo and I eventually let it go because its front digging feet were extremely powerful which frightened me a bit as I thought it was going to bite me. The mole quickly found a spot in the grass and disappeared, probably underground. The country path still exists, but is mostly overgrown now. The Brownie 127 was owned by my mother and was a family camera - well cherished, but sadly no longer around as it eventually got superseded by a newer model.

Image copyright Eric Whitfield

Ann Evans, Wrexham: I believe that this photo would have been taken with my mother's brownie camera as I don't think that other family members would have owned one at the time. My mother won hers in a daily newspaper competition in 1926. This is me and my older sister in about 1948 in Rhyl - a popular holiday resort.

Image copyright Ann Evans

Phil Bulmer, Nottingham: I bought a Brownie No. 2 last year and took it on a school trip - I am a teacher. We went to Beaumanor Hall in Leicestershire for a World War Two experience and I brought the camera along for a little "authenticity". The camera dates from about 1930. At the end of the trip, I took a photograph of the two fabulous members of staff from Beaumanor who made our day special. The print was quite special so I popped it in a period looking frame. Before I handed it to the ladies, I passed it around a few retired folk who were around during World War Two and asked them when they thought the picture was taken. Naturally the two ladies were dressed as an ARP warden and land girl. The response was "1943?" They were rather taken aback to find it had been taken the day before.

Image copyright Phil Bulmer

Niall Wallace, Dundee: I was on a tour of Switzerland in 2013 - this is the Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) in Luzern, after restoration from a devastating fire. The surviving panels inside the bridge depict scenes from local history and were added in the 17th Century. The Camera is a Kodak (UK) Six20-B from 1937-1941, I bought it on eBay for £5. One of the hardest parts of shooting on a Six20 Brownie is the re-spooling of 120 film - it involves rolling the film off the 120 spool in a dark bag and rolling it back on to a 620 spool.

Image copyright Niall Wallace

Pieter van Hiel, Hamilton, Canada: This is a photo of a Victorian-era family vault at Hamilton Cemetery. It was taken with a 90-year-old Brownie No. 2A, which was the first Brownie I acquired. The same cemetery is the final resting place of Isabella Whyte, who 19th Century locals believed (though without much evidence) to be Queen Victoria's half-sister. The camera was a birthday present from my parents 10 years ago. I assumed it was irreparable and kept it on a shelf as decorative piece for several years. In late 2013, I did some research online and found out just how simple these cameras are, took it apart and got it back in working order with just a little cleaning. The 2A uses obsolete 116 film, which is no longer made, but I had some spool adapters made with a 3D printer. It still suffers from light leaks, but in many cases this just adds to the character of the photos.

Image copyright Pieter Van Hiel

This was taken one morning after a bad storm in Dundas, Ontario. During the night, a 150-year-old oak tree had blown over and crushed this parked car and one other vehicle. I'd been walking in a nearby wooded area taking photos, and had just one frame left to capture this shot. I took this photo with my Brownie 2, which I bought online last summer. Made in 1908, it is the oldest working camera I own. I enjoy shooting with Brownies because they represent a pure atavistic photography experience. There are no electronics, no filters, no auto focus. You literally capture an instant of light with a simple cardboard box fitted with a bit of spring and a piece of glass.

Image copyright Pieter Van Hiel

James Wray, Plymouth: I bought a No. 2 Brownie from an antiques fair in the south-west almost a year ago - as far as I know, it was made sometime around 1919. With it I got a portrait lens and a boxed roll of 120 film from 1953. This photo was taken at Restronguet Creek near Falmouth. I travelled there from Plymouth at 3am so that I could catch the sunrise in time. I couldn't use a tripod for this camera properly because it doesn't have anywhere to screw into one, so I had to balance the Brownie on top of the tripod without the screw attached. The exposure time was two seconds on its medium aperture setting.

Image copyright James Wray

Hazel Edmunds, Lancaster: In September, my best friend sent me a belated birthday present which was two Brownie cameras - Box Brownie 1 and a Brownie Reflex. It was the beginning of something very special, it was the start of a new journey. I sourced film from a company in the south of England as these cameras take either a 127 or 620 film which are very rare. The outcome was beyond my expectations - the photos are beautiful and give a vintage feel. This one was taken with the Brownie Reflex on a windy day in Arnside, Cumbria, in October. It's the railway bridge going towards Barrow. I took it because it speaks of a journey and I'm on a journey with the cameras.

Image copyright Hazel Edmunds

Tony Platt, Newton Abbot: Brownie 620 - the camera was bought at a local charity shop in Newton Abbot, Devon for £1 in July 2013 and I took photos with it in the afternoon. I had to re-spool 120 film from a "modern" roll to the thinner metal older ones. Not being sure if the camera worked, I went out on a particularly sunny day to Decoy Country Park. There was no real plan behind what I was doing, just taking photographs, the "old-fashioned" way.

Image copyright Tony Platt

Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine's email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox.

Related Topics

More on this story