The Kodak Model 3A Postcard Camera
and the Velox PostalThe popularization of an art form or a technology is seldom a serious subject of scholarly interest. For example, historians of photography study the unusual — the gifted photographer, the photograph that is a work of art — not the ordinary or the popular. The ultimate criticism in a photography course is to refer to someone’s photographs as “snapshots.” Because of this understandable bias, it is often difficult to locate information about anything that appealed to or was intended for a large popular audience. Such things might offer interesting stories in the history of marketing or business, but they do not seem worthy of serious study. A good case in point is the popularization of photography. Little has been written about the history of George Eastman’s attempts to put photography within the reach, both financially and technically, of every person in America. Even less has been written about the role of the real photograph postcard in achieving that goal. In fact, the subject is never mentioned in any history of photography. My thesis is simple: the postcard craze during the period from 1905 to 1915 was a major force in the growth of amateur photography in America. Kodak and other manufacturers knew that and marketed and developed products to foster the inter-relationship. Eastman’s Kodak The major factor behind the popularization of photography was George Eastman’s Kodak camera introduced in August 1888. Eastman’s intention was to make photography so simple and foolproof that even a child could take good photographs. Then, as now, the way in which to achieve that goal was to simplify the camera and the film. The fewer the number of steps required and the fewer the decisions, the easier it is for the photographer. As Eastman wrote in the draft version of the manual to his new camera: No knowledge of photography is required. The construction and adjustment of the camera is so perfect and simple that its operation is within the ability of anyone who is competent to perform four elementary acts, viz.
1. Point the camera 2. Press the button 3. Turn the key 4. Pull the cordThe small, simple, lightweight Kodak had a fixed focus lens (everything beyond 8 feet was in focus), one speed, and one lens opening. In other words, the amateur photographer literally pointed the camera and pushed a button, it was not necessary to figure out how to focus the camera or adjust for the amount of available light. Not only did Eastman simplify the operation of the camera, he also eliminated for the amateur the complex process by which the film was then developed and printed. After making the 100 exposures possible on the roll of film, the amateur photographer just mailed the entire camera back to the factory where the film was removed, developed, and printed (or enlarged). A new roll was loaded at the factory and the camera and mounted prints were returned to the customer. Eastman’s invention created the “snapshot.” Essentially, the snapshot was an art-less photographic record of the important moments in anyone’s life. In the draft of the original “user’s” manual, Eastman continued: “Photography is thus brought within the reach of every human being who desires to preserve a record of what he sees. Such a photographic notebook is an enduring record of many things seen only once in a lifetime and enables the fortunate possessor to go back by the light of his own fireside to scenes which would otherwise fade from the memory and be lost.” The Kodak Model 3A The link between Eastman’s simplified technology and the postcard came with the introduction of the Model 3A Folding Pocket Kodak. Marketed first in May 1903, the Model 3A was Kodak’s first postcard camera, that is, a camera designed to take postcard-size negatives (3¼-inches by 5½- inches). The Model 3A was an extremely popular camera in large part because it provided the average person with a relatively inexpensive camera with which to make real photo postcards. The original Model 3A underwent numerous changes until 1915. A variety of related models with special features were also introduced, including a Special Kodak No. 3A (with a compound shutter) in 1910; an Autographic Kodak No. 3A (a write-on-the-film camera) in 1914; and a Pocket Kodak No. 3A in 1927. Taking pictures with a 3A The Model 3A used a “122 film,” a rolled film backed with paper. The negative that it yielded measured 3¼-inches by 5½-inches. By today’s standards that is a monster negative. For a contrast, think of how small the negatives are from a disc camera. These dimensions coincided with the standard measurement of a postcard. Any negative from a Model 3A could be printed on a piece of postcard-sized developing paper by a simple contact process — that is, the negative was placed on top of a piece of unexposed developing paper and then both were exposed to light. If was not necessary, for example, for the image to be enlarged since the contact print was the exact size of the negative. The larger negative also meant that more detail could be captured. That is one of the reasons why the images of real photocards are often so sharp and detailed. Unlike the original Kodak, the Model 3A offered a set of adjustments. The time or length of exposure could be set for “instantaneous” (measured in 1/25, 1/50, or 1/100 of a second), “time” (shutter would remain open as long as desired), or “bulb” (shutter would remain open as long as a bulb was squeezed). The lens opening could be adjusted to allow more or less light to enter the camera, and the distance between the camera and the subject could be changed (from 6 to 100 feet). Indoor photography and flashed light pictures It was possible to take photographs indoors without additional flash illumination only with a very long exposure time. For example, in a room with “dark colored walls and hangings and only one window” on a “cloudy dull” day (admittedly an extreme example), the manual recommended an exposure time of 5 minutes and 20 seconds. For best results in 1910, the amateur photographer relied on “Eastman Flash Sheets.” The chemically treated sheets were fastened in a holder and then ignited by touching them with a match. The camera’s shutter was left open until after the sheet had flashed and the exposure was made. The photographer then closed the shutter and advanced the film for the next picture. Obviously flash photography required a patient sitter who could hold a pose until the entire procedure had been completed. Developing and printing By the time that the 3A had gained popularity, Eastman was marketing a wide range of supplies for the amateur photographer who wished to develop and print their own photographs. In 1913, for example, a complete home developing outfit — a red candle lamp, trays and tools, chemicals, and a contact printing frame — could be purchased for $1.50.