Saturday, 9 April 2011

Sepia Saturday 69: First cameras, first photographs

Mary Pickford was born the day before my grandfather, and theoretically the two events could have been just minutes apart, albeit she in Toronto and he some 440 miles away in Chicago. Sadly, I can't think of much else to link the image prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday with the subject that I've had in mind for a few weeks. At a stretch, I suppose I could have said that the photograph of the "girl with the golden curls" holding an early movie camera provided the inspiration for today's Photo-Sleuth article about our first experiences with taking photos, or that she too became familiar with the camera at a very early age. The truth is that the subject of my article has been gestating for a while, and the time seems right, so you'll have to just infer whatever links you feel might be appropriate.

For many of us, at least of my generation, the Sixties and the era set off by the Kodak Instamatic 100 was our first personal experience of using a camera, but it's easy to forget that we were by no means the first generation to have access to cameras in our childhood. My father Charles Bernard 'Bud' Payne (1928-2006) was sixteen when he bought his first camera, an early start at what was to remain a keen interest for the rest of his life. I'm fortunate that he reminisced about his early photographic experimentation in a letter to me some years ago [1].

Image © and collection of Bud Payne
Michael Kirk, Tony & Ronnie Gray, Bunnie Payne & 'Rusty'
Woodlands Farm, Chellaston, c. April 1944
Taken with a Kodak Six-20 Folding Brownie by Bud Payne [2]

My Dad bought his first camera at his uncle's shop: A.J. Brown, M.P.S., Dispensing Chemist, 202 Burton Rd, Derby [3].

When I acquired my first camera - a 620 [sic - usually called a Six-20] Kodak Folding Brownie (fixed aperture, exposure and focus, but I had a close-up lens too) in March 1944, the first film (Verichrome) was inexpertly processed and became badly reticulated. I discarded the eight neg[ative]s years ago and only have one print - of Bunnie with some young boys and Rusty.

Kodak Six-20 Folding Brownie with close-up lens [4]

Among the discarded prints was one of a rabbit called Benny - a Dutch buck. Well I expect it was a buck, but sexing at an early eage was tricky, and I recall that Hansel became Gretel when the organs were easier to identify. Why 'Benny'? You may well ask. About three months later I photographed 'Benny washing his face' on a piece of R.A.F. Pan film - no neg or print of that has survived, although according to my notes, the negs were OK. I took no more rabbit pictures, and I think this must be evidence of my declining interest in keeping livestock - I had other, competing hobbies, including photography!

Image © and collection of Bud Payne
Self portrait, Charles Bernard Payne
"Rustington," 36 Glenwood Road, Chellaston, August 1944
Taken with a Kodak Six-20 Folding Brownie by Bud Payne [5]

The lad who reticulated film A4 was E.K.C. Varty, a school mate, originally from Calke, then living at Alvaston, who had great ambitions in the photography field. He organized the Union of Amateur Photographers, renamed the Trent Vale Photographic Society and finally the Association of Young Photographers, whose first exhibiton was held at Bemrose School in 1945. There were 20 exhibitors, only 5 from Derby, of whom I was one, as were Ken Varty and Allan Bell. Members were divided into groups of half a dozen - we sent round prints for criticism by fellow group members every few weeks, but when Ken, Allan and others were called up for National Service in late 1945 the organisation collapsed. Ken was a funny chap, cleverer than I imagined, became a professor of French, wrote a book on the fox and died of cancer - probably in his early 40s. He and great pal Tom Roylance (prof. of physics, Middle Eastern univ.) amused themselves in season by blowing up frogs through straws inserted in the cloaca. I don't know which species of frogs are carcinogenic.

I forget where we bought the expired R.A.F. film, but it came in 11 ft x 5½ inches rolls (in tins) which I cut down to size using a home made device covered in black velvet which Bunnie helped me to operate in the cubby-hole under the stairs - a tricky job in total darkness. A rather crude exercise, but films, like rabbit food, were hard to come by in 1944, and this material was cheap: 10 shillings a roll. The following yaer Allan Bell and I made an enlarger, the lens for which came from an old 'stand camera' given to me by Uncle Arthur. A lot of time and ingenuity was spent on this piece of equipment; it never performed well because the optics weren't quite right, but it gave us a good deal of fun (=exasperation). Why on earth didn't I photograph it instead of clouds and more clouds?

Image © and courtesy of Francois15
Agfa Iso-Pak camera [6]

Some two and a half decades later and I was setting out on my own photographic adventures for the first time. Judging by the date ascribed to an enlargement of this photograph in my mother's photo album, I think I must have received the Agfa Iso-Pak camera (shown above) as a ninth birthday present, just before Christmas the previous month. Although I can't locate the original negatives at the moment - they must be in a "safe" place, I suppose - I believe that this is a print from the first film that I took with that camera.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Diana Payne, Baines Avenue, Salisbury, January 1971
(outside Caves Hotel)
Taken with an Agfa Iso-Pak by Brett Payne [7]

I feel sure that it had been purchased at my Dad's favourite camera shop, "Salisbury Photographic & Electrical" on Gordon Avenue, and the first few photographs were taken in Salisbury (as it was called then) after perhaps buying a 126 film cartridge on a return visit. We lived several hours' car journey away, and only went to the city a couple of times a year, when we would stay at the Caves Motel.

I recall one of the duty managers being a portly man who I imagined might be Burl Ives's older brother, and the magnificent breakfasts served on silver trays (well, stainless steel, perhaps) with toast, marmalade and butterballs! One of the other shots on this mislaid film was the other duty manager, taller and thinner and not nearly as jovial, but obviously attentive enough to precocious nine year-olds, posing next to the hotel entrance. This photograph, however, is of my sister Diana, standing in the "car park" on Baines Avenue, in pretty much the same dutiful pose that her Aunt Bunnie had used a generation earlier.

I went on to use that camera for some years, going through many spools of both black-and-white and colour film, although limited by conflicting demands on meagre pocket money, until I upgraded to a cheap but much appreciated Ricoh 35mm SLR in late November or early December 1983.

Perfect Shot™ 110 Fisher-Price camera [8]

Twenty-five years after my first efforts my eldest daughter, then four years old, was the recipient of a Fisher-Price camera that we, I am reliably informed, bought for her at a small shop in the town of Lefkas at the northern tip of the Greek island of Lefkada. Although patented in March 1995, the model (#3815), which took 110 size cartridge film, was apparently first introduced, according to some sources, in 1993 or 1994 [9,10]. The advertising blurb states that it was "designed for children ages 5 years and older," but I guess we thought she could manage it alright, and she did. The poor quality plastic lens, fixed aperture, shutter speed and focus and the 110 film format, though, while making it very simple to operate, restricted its capabilities considerably.

Her first picture appears to have been a portrait of Gill and I in the spotless second-floor "Zimmer frei" in Lefkas where we spent a night before heading south, via ferry, to Ithaka [11]. By correlation with my own photographs of that trip, which are dated, it must have been taken on the 6th October 1996.

Image © Lesley Payne and collection of Brett Payne
Louise Payne, Monemvassia (Lower Town), Greece, 15 October 1996
Taken with a Fisher-Price Perfect Shot camera by Lesley Payne [12]

By the time she took this portrait of her younger sister Louise, hamming it up for the camera - never one to pose demurely - nine days later, we had island-hopped to Patra, driven south to Olympia and the west coast of the Peloponnese Peninsula, down and around it's southern tip, and then across to the impressive citadel of Monemvassia.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Lesley Payne, Venetian Fortress, Methoni, Greece, 12 October 1996
Taken with Minolta XG-9 35mm SLR Camera & Sigma 28-200 Zoom Lens by Brett Payne [13]

This shot taken by me shows Lesley, who did pose demurely if slightly self-consciously, with her camera at the ready inside the Venetian military fortress of Methoni, memorable for its massive bastioned ramparts and the fortified Bourtzi islet.

Now that we have all graduated to digital formats, it will be interesting to see what the next generation use to take their photographs, and what they choose as their first subjects. I suspect they will do as Allan Vestergard Nielsen described so simply, and yet eloquently, in My First Camera on his blog five years ago:

I got my first camera when I was 9 years of age. My father gave it to me on my birthday, and before the day was over I had taken the first roll of film. I did what every kid does when provided with a camera; I photographed my dog, my house, my friend, a flower, my parents and everything else I cherished. I was hooked on photography immediately - as I still am. And I discovered one of the main things about taking pictures; I could freeze the moment and preserve it as a memory.

All images © and courtesy of their owners
Mosaic of "first photographs" from various sources [15-20]

Some haphazard scouting around on the net turned up several "first photographs," including a Flickr group entitled "The first picture we ever took." They all have a very similar feel about them, with their off-centred but familiar subjects, sometimes half out of the frame, tilted skylines, and always the low "child's eye" vantage point from which they were taken. Links to the images featured in the mosaic can be found at the end of the "References." Many thanks to the creators of the photos for their permission to include them here.

I wonder if you remember when you took your first photograph, and what camera you used. Do you still have a print of the photo, or the original camera, perhaps? Can you recall the circumstances surrounding those first few attempts at capturing your immediate surroundings: family, home, friends, pets? Does the image have a special meaning to you, or bring back particular memories? It's also worthwhile looking back amongst the photographs preserved by your parents and grandparents. Which of them might have been "first photographs"? Post a scan on your blog, along with your story, and please feel free to leave a note and link as a comment here so we can share in your reminiscences and discoveries.

And don't forget to head on over to Sepia Saturday 69, where you'll find plenty more to while away your weekend.


[1] Payne, Bud (2002) Letter to Brett Payne, dated 31 October 2002 at Borradaile Trust, Marondera, Zimbabwe, Collection of Brett Payne.

[2] Photograph of Michael Kirk, Tony & Ronnie Gray, Bunnie Payne & 'Rusty' in a field, near Woodlands Farm, Chellaston, c. April 1944, Paper print (77 x 53.5 mm), taken with Kodak Six-20 Folding Brownie Camera, by Bud Payne, Collection of Bud Payne.

[3] 1941 Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, London: Kelly's Directories Ltd., Ancestry

[4] Image of Kodak Six-20 Folding Brownie with close-up lens, Courtesy of

[5] Photograph of Bud Payne at "Rustington, 36 Glenwood Road, Chellaston, August 1944, Paper print (55 x 795 mm), taken with Kodak Six-20 Folding Brownie, by Bud Payne, Collection of Bud Payne.

[6] Image of Agfa Iso-Pak camera, by Francois15 and courtesy of Flickr.

[7] Photograph of Diana Payne, Baines Avenue, Salisbury (outside Caves Hotel), January 1971, Taken with Agfa Iso-Pak Camera, by Brett Payne, Collection of Brett Payne.

[8] Image of Perfect Shot™ 110 Camera by Fisher-Price, by Mike Martin Wong and courtesy of Flickr.

[9] U.S. Patent 356,587, Photographic camera by Shuler et al. & Fisher-Price, Inc., Google Patents.

[10] #3815/#73815 Perfect Shot™ 110 Camera, by This Old Toy.

[11] (Not pictured) Photograph of Brett and Gill Payne, Lefkas, 6 October 1996, Taken with Fisher-Price Perfect Shot™ 110 Camera by Lesley Payne, Collection of Brett & Gill Payne.

[12] Photograph of Louise Payne, Monemvassia, 15 October 1996, Taken with Fisher-Price Perfect Shot™ 110 Camera by Lesley Payne, Collection of Brett & Gill Payne.

[13] Photograph of Lesley Payne, Venetian Fortress, Methoni, Greece, 12 October 1996, Taken with Minolta XG-9 35mm SLR Camera & Sigma 28-200 Zoom Lens by Brett Payne, Collection of Brett & Gill Payne.

[14] My First Camera", by Allan Vestergard Nielsen.

[15] My first photograph, Wyandotte, Michigan, 1958, by Hilarywho and courtesy of Flickr.

[16] First picture I ever took, Christmas 1965, taken with Kodak Instamatic 124 camera by Donna Marsh and courtesy of Flickr.

[17] My first photograph, Twin Lights, Highlands, New Jersey, September 1967, taken with Diana camera by Arthur Costigan and courtesy of Flickr.

[18] My first photographs, Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing, New York, taken with Imperial Instant Load 900 camera by Angela T.

[19] The first picture I ever took, undated, by lemonjenny and courtesy of Flickr.

[20] My dog Zip & trophy, Mt. Washington, Ohio, 1968, taken with Kodak Hawkeye Flashfun II by L. David Likes.


  1. What a very interesting post, how wonderful to have had that letter from your grandfather. I enjoyed seeing all of the early photos, including those taken by your daughter.
    My first camera was a very old box brownie that my father gave me in the 1960's and the first photos I ever took was at the Port of Tauranga of a Japanese ship. I am not sure where those photos are now.

  2. I got my first camera for 8th grade graduation. It was a Ricoh Diacord Twin Lens Reflex. I know I used it on my eighth grade trip. I don't think I saved any of those photos, but I do have some from the first year.

  3. First shot I took was with my mother's Brownie in the early 1960s at Fort DeRussy at Waikiki on Oahu, Hawaii. It was a shot of my best friend. Unfortunately I can't remember where I put it. It's been missing for years. I remember how excited I was to be able to actually take real photos myself.

    Photos are simply still a wonder.

  4. Good article! I just lately took some black and white pictures with a HOLGA. It is a new camera but takes pictures like the old brownies and such. In fact, you have to tape it up with black electrical tape so there is no light coming in when you take the pictures.

  5. Thanks for the nice comment on my blog post entitled "Bathing Beauty." I noticed you have a blog on your grandfathers's unvolvment with the C.E.F. Nest week I am posting on my grand father's involvement in 286th Regiment, New Brunswisk's "McLean Kilties." I'd love any feedback you might have. Thanks

  6. The self photo he took so awesome! Thanks so much for such a delightful, interesting and lovely photos of your outstanding family! You did such a great job on putting this all together...I enjoyed it so much!.....Shooting pictures has gone a long way since then!

  7. Such a fun reminiscence -- the historical details are fascinating, down to wondering what frogs are carcinogenic.

  8. Wow! You worked so hard on this post. Thank you for all the interesting details and research. It took me back to my first camera, a white Kodak with some gold on it when I was about 10.

    I really enjoyed learning about your family of photographers.

    Happy Sepia Saturday,

    Kathy M.

  9. Brett, I loved this post. I'm remembering my own dad, who lent me one of his cameras (I recall it was very much like your dad's folding Brownie) to document my 4th grade field trips to a coal-burning power plant and the home of President James Buchanan. I felt very superior to my classmates who had those ugly Instamatics for their use!

    I don't know what became of the camera, and my dad's no longer around to ask, but I do still have those photos in a box somewhere....

  10. Very interesting reading. Remarkable that all was recorded and remembered. I can neither remember my first photos nor recently with digitals I don"t remember those first photos either. Remarkable the photo gene seems to be strong in your family.

  11. What a captivating post. Charles' self portrait is particularly nice. I remember having one of those 110 film cameras; they were disappointing. My first real camera was a Canon AE-1. I still have it.

  12. Wonderful post as always Brett. The first photograph is my favourite, they look so happy.

  13. The little Fisher Price produced a remarkably good photo! I was sent from Scotland to Canada at the age of 11 to stay with my aunt & uncle. I was provided with Mum's camera and 6 rolls of film, which I knew was prohibitively expensive (an exaggerated ruse used to stop us kids using Mum's camera). I came home with nearly one roll used, well rationed, but I still felt guilty. Everyone wondered where my holiday snaps were :-) Thank goodness for digital! Jo

  14. wonderful post. I love seeing the evolution of the cameras right up to the fisher price one. And then to see your daughter with that very camera around her neck. Priceless.

  15. My first camera might have been a Canon 110 film camera, maybe called a Sure Shot? It was one of those long and flat jobs. My favorite camera was even older, one I got from my grandfather. It was a Kodak, though I can't remember the model now. I wrote to the Kodak company and asked for the instruction manual. What a surprise, it showed up! It took those little blue bullet shaped flash bulbs, and I had to stop using the camera when i could no longer find the flash bulbs. What a great post and reminder of fun times.

    BTW, Fisher Price still makes kids cameras, but they are digital. !!! My daughter has one and the image quality is low, but she loves taking pictures all the same.

  16. Thanks for your interesting responses. I'm no expert on old acmeras, but researching this article and your responses has certainly been fun, and educational. I've learnt a lot.

    Marilyn - You'll have to hunt out that photo in the Port of Tauranga and post it on your blog, so that I can take a "now and then" shot for you.

    Postcardy - Something like this? Sad that you didn't save the first shots.

    T+L - Somewhere, I have some taken at Waikiki too, but in 1987, when I had a struggle to get any beach in the shot. I too remember that feeling - a wonder indeed.

    Rosie - I hadn't heard of the Holga, but now that I've read more, I want one! A fascinating topic, thank you.

    Cool Fox - My inactivity on my CEF blog Grandpa's War over the last few years is a result of my inability to stick to those projects that I can handle, rather than a lack of interest. I have a lot more material to put on there (in fact, if I remember correctly, I hardly got started) when I find the opportunity. I'll be looking forward to reading about your grandfather and the 286th Regiment.

    Karen S. - thanks for the kind comments. It has come a long way in some respects, although in others not far at all.

    Meri - I debated about whether to include that bit or not, but Mr Varty's been gone for a while now, so I hope it won't cause offence.

    Kathy M - thank you. You didn't give me much to go one with the "Kodak, white with some gold" - I couldn't find an example quite like this, I'm afraid.

    iw - Glad you enjoyed it, as it was fun to think about these memories and write it too. You were lucky to have the use of your Dad's camera, and I hope you'll dig out those first photos and share them.

    Pat in MN - I suppose it's a bit like the "writing gene" or the "reading gene," in my view not so much nature but nurture. Regarding the remembering, I think sometimes these memories can be "revived" by browsing old albums, taking to family, and the like. It would be sad if they are gone forever.

    Christine H - Yes, I agree about my father's self portrait (I have assumed it was set up by himself with a timer, but I may be wrong) although it does suggest a little self absorption. I found the 110-film format a little disappointing too. Unless the light was perfect and the hand very steady, the results were generally pretty awful.

    Howard - Yes, I agree, the boys look just like boys! A pity that the negative has gone.

    imagespast - Yes, I agree, while there are so many things about film photography that are lost with digital, the cost factor just makes such a difference.

    Barbara + Nancy - the photo of my daughter with her camera was uninentional at the time, of course, but a nice find, especially for this post.

    whowerethey - From what I can tell, the Canon Sure Shot was 35mm. Perhaps it was one of the Canon 110 models. My guess is that the Kodak camera with the blue flash bulbs you refer to was the Instamatic, either the 100 or one of its successors, which used the same 126 cartridge as my Agfa. You can find the flash buls on eBay occasionally.

  17. Thanks for including my first photograph! I have no idea what my children's first photographs were, so I did a little digital sleuthing in Flickr and searched for the first photo they took tagged with their name as photographer.

    My son took this shot at 4yo:

    And my daughter took this one when she was just 3:

    It's funny that they are both of small parts of me. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  18. And thank you, Angela, for returning here to show us your children's first photos.

  19. Arthur Costigan22 April 2011 at 02:11

    I was glad to participate in this. As I read the post and the replies, a flood of memories came back of family times and my Diana and Brownie cameras. Thanks for a great post!

  20. And thanks to you too, Art, for your photograph which so clearly exemplified what I was trying to get across. It's the "freezing of the moment" in the photographer's eye and memory, not just of the subjects, that seems to give all these "first photos" such a similar feel.


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