BY BOB SMITH
I remember as a boy, playing in the snow with my big brother. Bulky as astronauts, we wore heavy coats, wool hats, mittens and insulated boots. There was a foot of snow in our front yard and we were trying to roll up a ball big enough to form the base of a snowman. But the day was too cold; the snow too dry. And we couldn’t get anything that big to stick together. The most we could manage was snowballs, which broke apart as soon as we threw them at each other’s heads.
Mom came outside, and asked us to pose for a picture. Hanging from a strap around her neck was a Kodak Duaflex IV camera, which consisted of a brown cardboard box (with leather-textured surface) with two lenses on the front, facing the subject – one on top for framing the picture, and one below that, with the shutter behind it, where the film would be exposed to capture the image. You lined up a shot by looking straight down through the square viewfinder on top.
“Come on boys, let me get you!”
We paused our snowball war, panting puffy clouds, and faced Mom. When you looked at the camera you could see her upside-down image in the viewfinder lens. She smiled and, as she centered us, she also centered her face, topsy-turvy and fluid, in that rounded frame. Jimmy rested his snow-crusted mitten on my shoulder.
She squeezed the button on the side of the box, the lens snicked, and it was done. Mom rolled the metal wheel on the side of the camera to advance the film for another shot, posing us side by side, with shovels jammed into the snow like soldiers with rifles at parade rest. We smiled again at inverted Mom as she snapped the picture, and she went back inside.
That camera came out for every holiday, too. My brothers and sisters and I would be grouped on the couch, giggling, with our hands folded politely in our laps. Someone at the last second (usually Jimmy) would raise two-finger rabbit ears behind someone’s head, or jab an elbow to give the shot extra pizzazz. Because it was indoors, Mom used the flash, which consisted of a silver saucer-like reflector on a plastic battery compartment that screwed onto the side of the camera. Each flashbulb, approximately the size of a ping-pong ball, had a fuzzy maze of blue filaments inside. You had to press and turn the bulb into the hole in the middle of the reflector and eject it so it could be replaced after each shot.
When Mom pushed the button, the flashbulb would explode with a sound like one of the last kernels in the pan turning into popcorn. The brilliant light blinded us briefly, and we would wander around the room in a happy daze, closing our eyes to relish the moonlike afterimage floating across our field of vision.
You never knew what the pictures looked like until they came back from the camera store after being developed, when Mom would paste them into albums. The prints had a scalloped edge with a quarter inch white border, where Mom would include notations like “Easter 1965,” or “Bobby three and a half, Barbara two,” written in careful script just like the “correct” examples in my penmanship textbook.
A few years later, Kodak came out with Instamatic cameras that didn’t have a viewfinder, and featured a built-in flash that didn’t require you to replace a bulb every time you took a shot. There was no popping noise, and the flash was more diffuse so we didn’t get the floating moon afterimage either. We still had to pose and smile but not having mom’s wobbly face in the lens facing you, inviting you inside, took some of the romance out of having our pictures taken.
That Duaflex IV may have been a cheap low-tech camera, but as they say in the credit card commercials – the memories are priceless.