The earliest example of a "fixed photograph" still in existence was taken by Joseph-Nicephore Niepce in 1826. Called a "heliograph" at the time, it captured the view from the photographer's workroom window overlooking Gras, France. The exposure took eight hours, resulting in a grainy, shadowy black-and-white image. Much has changed since then. Now automated single-lens reflex cameras can produce superb color photographs that can be developed and returned (with a free extra print) in a matter of hours. This technology ensures that Diana, Princess of Wales, will never be free from tabloid press photographers.

Far from Fleet Street, the museum preserves remnants from a kinder, gentler age almost a century ago, when life moved at a slower pace. The premier artifact here of this earlier era of photography must be the Kodak "Box Camera," more-formally known as the "Number 2 Flexo Kodak" camera, patented in 1885 and later years.

Construction of the camera is a model of simplicity itself: It's a wooden box with two openings in the front. The lower one admits light to expose the film. Sighting is through the upper opening by means of a mirror and another aperture on the top of the camera. The shutter control is nearby--one shutter speed only--right next to the crank for manually advancing the film to the next frame. The number of the exposure is read off the film through another hole in the back of the camera. There are no "f-stops." Focusing is accomplished by physically moving the camera back and forth until the image is in focus. If there were more cameras like this still in use, Princess Di could live her life in relative peace and quiet.

Come and see this piece of history and others in "Granny's Attic," the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Belhaven Treasure #9

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998