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#117 :: Brownie Hawkeye

June 6, 2004

Before any lens, a performance takes shape the instant the shutter is opened. It lasts a few milliseconds, so quickly as to not exactly “happen” at all and then the camera shuts its one good eye, sinking into blissful ignorance of what it has witnessed, the actions, people, places and things lurking inside the dark box until you release them for capture in silver iodide, complex dyes or 1/0 bits. Your camera is a portable proscenium – whatever transpires within that bright rectangle is art, or drama, history or evidence, love or crap. The picture is whatever you say it is – until someone else looks at it, and then the the reviews come in, the script is scrapped in favor of new interpretations, and your quicksilver vision goes into the tall, moldering, mountainous stack with the rest of the already-consumed media the human race has made.

Made by Kodak and marketed in the U.S. from 1950 to 1961, the Brownie Hawkeye feels like the iPod of its day. Cubical, yet streamlined all over, its fluted surfaces invite your grip, a vinyl handle surges up out of its body, and a screw-on bulb-flash unit with a fat parabolic reflector blooms on its lapel. This is a damn simple camera – point-and-shoot, with single meniscus lens boasting a focus range of 6′ to infinity. You can try to re-roll 120 film onto Kodak’s proprietary and obsolete 620 reels, and if you succeed and you shoot something slow like Plus X, you can get wonderful low-contrast BnW images, square and rustic. It is not a camera for grand moments, nor surreptitious bursts of creative blood. It is a camera for standing in front of a thing or a person, and pressing the square, grey button to help you remember.

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