Small is beautiful

The love of small cameras is another legacy of Brownie, the camera that triggered my photography obsession as a six-year-old. I am fortunate to own “state-of-the-art” (= heavy!) DSLR cameras and lenses for my professional work; but for the sheer joy of walking around and making pictures, especially on holidays or otherwise for leisure, it is Brownie’s descendants that I turn to – compact cameras.

There is a saying that “the best camera is the one you have with you at the time”.  

These days, for many people, it is their smart-phone that serves as their go-to camera. They are fantastic devices and I use mine too. As yet, my iPhone is not my “Handbag Camera” of choice though because, well, it’s a phone, really.

bridget elliot photographer sydney

It’s time to introduce “Handbag Camera”, the instrument(s) that have taken all the Travel photographs on this website and those in the Environment section, too. To qualify as a Handbag Camera, the instrument has to be small, beautifully crafted, look like a camera, include manual functions, be able to shoot in RAW (uncompressed) format and have excellent IQ – image quality.

There are many such small cameras on the market today (although not all of them are gorgeous!) and I have had a few since 2006, when I first started to travel with them. They are light and so less intrusive when photographing people. For those who are interested, most of the images in Travel and Environment are taken with the Fujifilm X10 or Fuji X100 cameras – both small and beautiful, and I chose between either depending on the size of my handbag!

I have just added a new, and bigger Handbag Camera to my collection, for larger handbags – the luscious Leica X Vario.

I’m using Handbag Camera to document trees in our area of Sydney – not as trees per se but as a living presence that adds something sculptural and exquisite to our built environment, quite apart from the shade that they yield and the haven and food source that they provide for wildlife. I’ve chosen to do so in black and white – to express their form, first and foremost. It’s a personal project, in response to the increasing loss of trees in our neighbourhood to “lifestyle” backyards, garages and ocean glimpses.

Here is an interesting story about a small camera that changed the world:

If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.

 Eve Arnold (1912-2012).

In the beginning

 My six-year-old self with the Kodak Brownie Vecta camera

My six-year-old self with the Kodak Brownie Vecta camera

My grandmother started it all. She gave me, what at the time, was a rather surprising birthday present for a six-year-old: her much-travelled, slightly battered Kodak Brownie Vecta camera! I had obviously coveted it and I can remember to this day, how excited I was to receive that parcel … it did look suspiciously like “Brownie” even before I’d unpicked the wrapping paper.

So began a love of photography that continues to this day. No family member, no pet nor neighbour was safe from my advances with Brownie – every school- teacher, friend and holiday was documented too. I’m thankful for that early obsession, as I have a carefully catalogued record of family life, now a little faded, a little worn at the edges, but still there, resonant in black and white.

Brownie taught me a thing or two and for that I am thankful too.

The really big lesson was the result of there being only 12 exposures per roll of film. Very occasionally you would be surprised with a lucky 13th, but rarely. So this meant that a three-week family holiday had to be captured in just 12 frames. In fact, pocket money and the household budget being limited, sometimes just 36 frames a year would have to suffice for my photography habit.

I can remember agonising over every shot, during our wonderful, seemingly endless school holidays when we’d jump into the car and drive 2500km to Cape Town and back from Harare, Zimbabwe. It was all very well to capture the family rigging up the tent on night one – but that meant that only 11 exposures (always hoping for 12) remained for the rest of the holiday! So careful decisions had to be made before pressing the shutter.

It’s a discipline that’s almost unthinkable in the digital age, when currently, 350 millions images are uploaded daily to Facebook, alone.

I’m thankful for that discipline. I can snap away if required with my blisteringly fast DSLR, but for the most part, I still like to “make” rather than “take” photographs: to consider, compose, craft manually, and then capture. I can do it a lot more quickly today, thanks to my professional equipment – but it does mean that I still have time to “see” and interact with who or what I am making a photograph of.

Thank you, Gran – and Brownie.

You don’t take a photograph, you make it.

 Ansel Adams (1902-1984)