In the late 1990’s my parents came home from a car boot sale with a bright yellow box that looked like it had just been taken off the camera store shelf. It was immaculate. Inside was a Kodak Brownie 127 Model 2 camera, dating from around 1960. Its wrist strap was still wound up and tied with an elastic band – it had clearly never been used. There was also a beautiful instruction leaflet, an unopened box of Verichrome Pan film and a boxed Kodak Close-Up lens. I really couldn’t believe the fantastic condition it was all in. So I put it all in a bag and left it in a cupboard for 20 years.
A couple of months ago, whilst having a rummage through the cupboard, I once again stumbled upon the camera and decided I really should do something with it. The main issue was the fact that the camera takes 127 film, which hasn’t been made since the 90s. There is a company that cuts down film into 127 size and sells it as Rera Pan, but that’s about £15 a roll. Having had previous joy with using ancient film I decided that would be a more economical and interesting route to go down.
I did have the unused Verichrome Pan roll that camera with the camera, but I felt I didn’t want to open that and spoil the set. Turning to ebay, I found some Ilford HP3, expired in 1963, for about £5 a roll, so bought two and waited for it to arrive.
The Kodak Brownie 127 Model 2 is an extremely simple camera, no more sophisticated than the original Box Brownie of 1900. A light tight container with a basic f/11 lens and a very simple 1/50th speed shutter at the front. Externally there are no controls other than the shutter release and the film winder, the only other features being the eye-level viewfinder at the back and a small translucent red window to check the frame number.
It wasn’t long before the two films arrived in their beautifully retro boxes. I knew I’d have to wait for a bright day to attempt to take any photographs, what with age having reduced the sensitivity of the emulsion, and the lack of controls on the camera to maximise the exposure. Finally a sunny Saturday came in mid January, and I took a trip down to Elephant and Castle to take some pictures.
There isn’t a huge amount to convey in describing the camera in use, with it being so basic. Frame the picture, press the button, wind on the film. That was pretty much it. Not wildly exciting in all honesty.
The developing of the film was more problematic as I just could not find any information regarding processing times for HP3 in the Rodinal 1+25 developer that I had to hand. In the end I just decided to use the HP5 time of 8 minutes and hope for the best.
In the pitch-black bathroom the film, which had remained tightly wound to its spool for 60 years, was predictably a little tricky to handle and persuade onto the developing spiral, but its short length helped a bit and before long I was back in the kitchen pouring in the chemicals. Developing and fixing done, I pulled out the spiral and coaxed the film from it so I could have a look. There were some definite images there but they were very thin. Whether through under-exposure or under-developing or a combination of both, I just hoped I could get some sort of scan from it.
After the negative dried I powered up my trusty Epson V550, and proceeded to scan. Some frames were just noise, but thankfully a few yielded some sort of image. Extremely grainy, gritty and with shadow details totally lost, but interesting and provocative images nonetheless.
The 60 year old camera had taken its first – possibly its last – photographs. It had fulfilled its picture-taking destiny, and so my mission was complete.