DescriptionStill film camera that folds into a smaller
size for optimal size efficiency
Time Period1900
LocationUCL Cabinet of Obsolete Media
Inventory nºUCL201731

The basic function of a camera is to gather, focus, and limit light onto a light-sensitive surface to capture an image. This is achieved by a system comprised of a physical structure (dark box), an optical opening (the lens), and a chemically sensitive surface (the photo plate). The optical opening of the dark box gathers and lets in light from the outside world. An opening and closing shutter temporally limits the light that comes in through a convex lens that focuses outside light onto the back of the dark box. An image of the scene on the outside of the lens is projected onto a photo plane at the back of the dark box. The photo plane of an analogue camera is covered with chemically treated paper that reacts with the light patterns coming in from the optical opening and permanently inscribes them onto the paper.  The photo paper is processed with a series of chemicals to turn the light-inscribed patterns into an image.

The folding camera differs from the earliest camera models in that it is designed for optimal size efficiency. The dark box is extremely thin and compact in order to fit into the user’s vest pocket. To accommodate the length of projection of light from the optical opening to the photo plate, the shutter and lens are extended from the dark box by a bellowed offshoot. For use, a plastic frame is unlocked allowing metal struts that support the bellowed offshoot to unhinge and be slid open. This system expands the distance between the lens and the photo plate, accommodating the light path from lens to photo plate. A closing hook and support hold the offshoot, lens system and metal struts flesh against the front of the camera when not extended for use.

The first photographic processes were developed in the 1830s when an amateur French inventor discovered a way to permanently capture the image created by a camera obscura on light sensitive surfaces. The process was made public, and after a decade of development, the first portrait studio opened in New York. American George Eastman’s 1884 development of celluloid paper as a cheap and portable substitute for the glass photo plate prompted the beginning of Eastman Kodak. Eastman named his company “Kodak”, conceiving of a word that started with his mother’s initial. He manufactured cameras on a wide scale. In 1900 Kodak introduced the “Brownie”. At the accessible price of one dollar, the easily handled Brownie camera was suited for the middle-class amateur and ushered photography into the mass-market. The onset of the First World War in 1914 coincided with the release of the first folding camera, called the Vest Pocket Kodak. Due to its portability and cost, it was an enormous success with soldiers leaving for the war and was eventually marketed as the “the soldier’s Kodak”.              



Gernsheim, Helmut Erich Robert. ‘Technology of Photography’ in Encycloeadia Brittanica.

Harding, Colin. “The Vest Pocket Camera was the Soldier’s Camera.” The National Science and Media Museum. March 13, 2014.

“How Film-based Cameras Work, Explained.” How-to-Geek. September 28, 2016.

“Kodak Brownie Camera” The Franklin Institute.

Neuhill, Beaumont and Andy Grundberg. ‘History of Photography’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica.