The Camera Takes the Picture

This photograph was taken in the early 1950s, on a summer holiday at Warners Southleigh Holiday Camp, Hayling Island. The woman in the picture is holding a Kodak ‘Brownie’ X20 Model C, manufactured between 1946 and 1952. In the manual it says: ‘Do not stand closer than 10 feet unless you use the close-up lens.’  The reason for this advice is that, the closer one gets to the subject within 10 feet, without a close-up lens the more the viewfinder and lens function inaccurately. If one assumes that this photo was taken with a similar ‘Brownie’ to the one being held by the woman in the picture, which is likely, because this was the standard design for amateur cameras at the time, then this photo is an example of what happens when this rule is ignored.

Both the landscape and portrait viewfinders, the two white circles at the top of the camera in this photo are offset from the lens: in portrait orientation, the offset is 2cm; in landscape, it is 3cm. This means that, the closer you get to the subject within 10 feet, without changing the lens, the more the standard lens reveals what lies beyond the viewfinder’s right-hand border. It’s likely, when this photograph was taken, the woman with the camera was perfectly centred in the viewfinder, but because the photographer is standing too close, the picture has revealed the ruddy-cheeked man over her left shoulder, possibly drunk. The only areas of the photo actually in focus are the matronly looking woman in the checked coat, and the boy in trunks who looks like he’s about to leap from a roof, both some way off in the distance.

We have one of these cameras in our collection. The shutter button is toward the front of the camera, on the right-hand-side at the bottom. By the way the woman in the picture is holding the camera, with her right index finger tensed, she is not just posing with the camera, she is operating it. The woman in the picture and the photographer arranged to take a photo of each other simultaneously. This adds another chance element; neither one of them would have been looking in the viewfinder at the moment the photos were taken.

The first time I viewed this photograph with the realisation that I was standing in the position of the subject, I wondered, momentarily, whether my image wasn’t trapped inside the box.

Nigel Martin Shephard

Published by The Family Museum

We are an archival project about amateur family photography, based in London and set up by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney.

One thought on “The Camera Takes the Picture

  1. This is quite a strange experience as we need to keep in mind someone else is taking her photograph; the situation does rather look like they were taking each other’s snap for a giggle with a view to swapping prints later on! Be great to find the photo she took…


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