Come Back, Mr. Eastman – We Haven’t A Leg To Stand On

Camera001My recent experiments in selfies pointed out one glaring deficiency in modern digital cameras compared to those of the film era. The omission is even more noticeable when you look at the cameras that took the glass plate. The missing bit is the little folding leg that pops out of the front of the camera.

Here is a page from a reprint of a 1931 Stukenbrok catalogue and the cameras shown are not really identified by a famous maker’s name…but it does not matter because all cameras of the folding type had the little leg. When you opened the thing for operation it could be sprung down to allow you to place the camera on a flat surface for stability. Some cameras had two of them – of different lengths – so that the device could be placed in a horizontal as well as vertical position.

Note that the equally-venerable box cameras could do this anyway as they were flat sided boxes.

All that was needed was a place to put the thing pointed at the group and then a wind-up of the mechanical self-timer. Presto – the proto-selfie. The fact that you had to wait a fortnight for the chemist to make you 123 copies of the result and then post it to all of your friends – another fortnight in the mails – was neither here nor there. You could still show yourself inside the toilet block at the local restaurant if you wanted – it just took a month to do.

Even in the film camera era there were strategically placed legs on most of the folders and even more intriguing metal studs or body extensions on the rangefinder, TLR, and SLR cameras that allowed them to be placed level with a normal lens poking out the front. None of them pretended to this refinement if there was a wide-angle or telephoto optic attached – that was probably considered to take the thing into the professional mode and would have needed a tripod. The humble self-portrait ( That’s the term before “selfie” became popular…) using the shelf of the bookcase or the top of a fencepost was still the province of the amateur.

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