North Cove, Washington. 2017:
A knock at the door sent the dog into a frenzy and signaled UPS had arrived with a package. What did Bob order now? With Channel 9, our local public television station, broadcasting in the background, I carried the package into the house and set it on the floor. Oh! It’s from Uncle John. I’d forgotten he was sending cameras.
I dug right in. Naturally I was hoping for a Leica or two, but when my mother’s long lost brother Bill’s cameras arrived, the box contained nothing of the sort.
First there was a small Kodak folding camera. It’s an Autographic No. A-127. A cute little thing.
Immediately I checked for a stylus. The photographer would pop a little door open on the camera back and use the stylus to inscribe notes directly onto the “Autographic” film. When you see old prints with those shaky handwritten notes across the bottom, written directly on the image? Those are images taken with an Autographic camera and inscribed using a stylus. These Autographics are almost always missing their stylus. To my surprise, the little bugger was intact!
Produced in 1915, this camera didn’t match Bill’s style. Maybe a family member had given it to him? Maybe it had simply filtered into the pile of family photographica? At any rate, it’s a fun little piece and I was glad to have it. I set it aside.
As PBS droned on in the background – a show about people finding out crazy stuff about their past through DNA testing, I exhumed another camera from beneath the packing material. A 35mm Argus A2B.
This camera would fit a budding photographer who needed an affordable option that also sported a few handy features. Argus first began producing the “A” line of cameras in 1936, with the A2B following in 1939. To use the camera, you would rotate the lens assembly which would then pop out and extend away from the body. I believe Bill’s A2B is postwar. It’s missing the pieces that make up the extinction meter, but it’s still very functional. I’ll bet he used it a lot. It still had its leather case with strap. I decided I would definitely run a roll or two through it.
The third thing appeared to be just a flash attachment in a box. When I opened the box, I laughed out loud. A Minox IIIs, the quintessential mid 20th century’s cliché spy camera! James Bond’s camera of choice! Of course Bill would have this!
A flash attachment, a light meter and the IIIs. I set about playing with the camera, sliding the body open and releasing the shutter … oh crap. It doesn’t work.
The camera looks great, but the shutter won’t fire. I messed with it until I heard something click.
The flash reflector was much more fun. Like a peacock spreading its feathers, I unfurled the reflector. It’s unwieldly on this miniature camera. No self-respecting spy is going to actually use this thing.
Film for all of these cameras is still available, though you have to work to find 127 roll film and Minox cartridges. I have all of these film sizes in my freezer, but I decided to poke around online to find out what they cost fresh.
I was toying with the Minox light meter, looking at film online … all this while being distracted by that show on PBS. It focused on the most interesting DNA revelations. Someone found out they were adopted. Someone else was reunited with … somebody. Someone else is related to a murderer. How fun!
I got a wild hair and ordered a test kit from 23andMe. Who knows? My dad sure had some crazy shit going on in his family.