Our recently-released book 500 Cameras is a survey of some of the most innovative and influential examples from the nearly 200-year history of cameras in our Technology Collection. The collection was featured in an earlier book, A Century of Cameras by Eaton Lothrup, documenting the 1839-1939 period— so of course this new book brings things more up to date.
The cameras are broken down into the catalogue types we use in the archive (box cameras, studio cameras, professional cameras, folding cameras, toys, etc.) and are arranged chronologically within each of those sections. This way, readers can experience how we categorize and work with the collection every day.
In my last book, Camera, we tackled a history of photography as seen through the camera and highlighted images made with them. This new book has a different focus: the cameras themselves. Each has a description and an informal narrative— somewhat along the lines as if I were personally touring you through the collection. It’s less about the technical nuts, screws and bolts and more about why they are culturally important.
The collection has over 8000 cameras, so of course picking 500 is a bit of a challenge. Right off the bat I started with those that are historically important, and that covers a lot of categories. Some were large selling products, others were milestones or ‘firsts’.
Above (top): Giroux Daguerreotype Camera: The first manufactured camera. Above (bottom): Page from ’500 Cameras’ featuring the Giroux.
Super Kodak Six-20: First automatic exposure control camera
Some were owned by well-known photographers:
Ansel Adams’ boyhood Brownie
The original Leica: the first high-quality mass produced 35mm camera
Todd Gustavson is the curator of technology at George Eastman House, working with the collection for more than 20 years.. He is also the co-owner of Walbokat, an 18 foot 1954 Chris Craft Riviera Runabout, shown at dusk at the main dock in Chautauqua, NY.