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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Oh My Darling, Oh My Darling, Oh My Darling . . . Kodak Camera?

“I love the wild, where I can ride and ride, and never meet a human being—where I can dream and dally and feast my eyes on a landscape man has not touched. I have lived most of my life in New York, and I love nature so well that I'm inclined to be jealous of her.”

In B.M. Bower's Her Prairie Knight, New York socialite Beatrice "Trix" Lansell visits Montana for the first time and falls in love with the landscape. (And with a handsome cowpunch named Keith Cameron, but that comes later!) Trix is determined to experience all that mother nature and Montana have to offer, and to capture it all on film. She never leaves the ranch without her beloved "Kodak," and often holds up the riding party, much to the amusement of her British suitor, Sir Redmond.

"The Loop, Union Pacific Railroad near Georgetown"
by renowned early Western photographer
William Henry Jackson
The way was rough and lonely; the trail wound over sharp-nosed hills and through deep, narrow coulees, with occasional, tantalizing glimpses of the river and the open land beyond, that kept Beatrice in a fever of enthusiasm. From riding blithely ahead, she took to lagging far behind with her Kodak, getting snapshots of the choicest bits of scenery.

"Another cartridge, please, Sir Redmond," she said, and wound industriously on the finished roll.

"It's a jolly good thing I brought my pockets full." Sir Redmond fished one out for her. "Was that a dozen?"

"No; that had only six films. I want a larger one this time. It is a perfect nuisance to stop and change."

In 1906, when Her Prairie Knight was first written, cameras had been on the mass-market for several years and were all the rage. The camera of choice for amateur photographers? The Kodak Brownie. Though George Eastman had been manufacturing cameras under several companies for more than a decade, the Brownie camera introduced in 1900 popularized low-cost photography. The combination of the one-dollar, easy to use camera with Kodak's marketing campaigns encouraging families to capture moments in time introduced the concept of the "snapshot."

The Brownie was named after Canadian artist Palmer Cox's popular cartoon characters, The Brownies, imaginary sprites who delighted in harmless pranks and helpful deeds. The first Brownie was a very basic cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that took 2¼-inch pictures on roll film. It was designed and marketed as a camera that was super affordable and easy to use, and all people had to do was send their film off to be processed and then anxiously wait for the pictures to come back. "You press the button--we do the rest."

In Her Prairie Knight, Trix is so obsessed with her Kodak that she worries more about its safety than her own when her horse takes off while she's trying to get a good shot. Keith takes off right behind her and, in an exciting moment, helps Trix disentangle herself from her runaway horse and avoid a bad fall. Afterward, he is incredulous that she fears more for her camera than she does for the danger she'd been in. But Trix isn't one to act a ninny in front of a man, and she isn't about to be intimidated by one, either:

Beatrice drew back from him, and from the sight below, and if she were frightened, she tried not to let him see. "Should I have fainted?" She was proud of the steadiness of her voice. "Really, I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Cameron, for saving me from an ugly fall. You did it very neatly, I imagine, and I am grateful. Still, I really hope I didn't break my Kodak."

Having had a similar experience myself once on a trail ride, I must admit that my first instinct was also to make sure my precious camera was secure before I worried about securing myself. Fortunately, my horse was just anxious to get to the next good patch of grass. Unfortunately, there was no handsome cowboy to come to my rescue. Oh, well. Maybe next time!


Her Prairie Knight by B.M. Bower
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