My Box Camera


The family 1975.

A few weeks ago I bought a book by Gunther Grass (umlaut) titled ‘The box’.  On its cover it features a box camera and the words ‘tales from the darkroom.’ It is funny how a picture is able to recall memories deeply buried in the ashes of time passed all too soon. It was during my last year at high school in The Hague and rumors of my parents wanting to migrate to Australia were vaguely doing the rounds. I was fifteen.  I happened to pass a camera shop and became instantly smitten by cameras that were displayed in the shop window.

My dad was a camera fan and had one of those cameras that one could focus on the subject by a lens that was able to be moved backwards and forwards by a concertina type action. I think it was a Leica camera. However, with his six children running around the dining table ( while shouting) and the Dutch rainy weather forever keeping us inside, his photography took a background stance.  I don’t think he took many photos that I can remember, except some years later after migration to send back some photos to his parents (my paternal grandparents) whom he never saw again. My mother lost her parents at ten years of age during the Spanish flue epidemic.

When the migration plans became certain I was taken out of school and within days was working delivering fruit and vegetables to different embassies of which The Hague was full of. I did those deliveries on a sturdy steel bike with huge handle bars and large cane basket fitted over the front wheel. It was an industrial bike build specific for deliveries. The season was heading towards winter and storms were normal. However, I had my mind set on a box camera that I looked at numerous time in the window of the camera shop. Perhaps I inherited my dad’s obsession gene. I just had to have that camera.

My greatest joy was when a delivery had to be made to the American embassy. I was friendly with the kitchen staff and practised my English that I had been taught since  two years at primary and the four years at high school. I would be given a hot soup and a tip that made my heart leap into my throat. I had started to smoke already and apart from the tip was given packets of Camel. Can you believe and understand my total happiness? Smoking in the fifties was regarded a form of maturity and for men at least almost a healthy habit to engage in. Even doctors gave it the nod of approval while wearing the stethoscope and white jacket.

I did also at times, try and get my hand underneath the wrapped up fruit and remember snitching a few grapes,  while I single handed manoeuvred the bike again storm and rain. It was hungry work. I am not sure if the kitchen staff ever noticed the juicy  ends of the few missing plucked grapes. In any case the tips kept on coming and within a few weeks I went to the camera shop and bought the camera. I always gave my earnings to my parents but was allowed to keep the generous tips. The camera is the same as on Gunther Grass’ book. I am sure it was a Brownie Kodak with a strap on top and two view finders.

I can still so vividly recall taking my first roll of film. I think it might have been eight photos or perhaps twelve.  I took the  exposed film spool to the camera shop who told me it would be ready in a week or so. I could hardly wait for them to be in my hands. The photos were poured over for hours. I was totally transfixed by the idea of getting an image to be fixed forever to be looked at over and over again. They had serrated edges as well and in black and white.

I took the camera to Australia and even took photos on the trip over. The boat had a developer on board so my excitement knew no bounds then.

I wish I could regain some of that excitement again.imagesCAY6GIQF

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25 Responses to “My Box Camera”

  1. petspeopleandlife Says:

    I enjoyed reading about your cameras. Why not get the inspiration to begin taking photos again? One is never too old. Oh, and why do you post your photos so small?


  2. Curt Mekemson Says:

    Such different worlds between then and now. I consider the two albums I have from growing up to be precious because of the memories they hold. I didn’t get bitten by the photography bug until the last several years. So I guess it is never too late. 🙂 –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I bought an Agfa Clack after the box camera and had it for many years. They are in a variety of albums or in biscuit boxes. I find it somewhat of a dubious trial to sniff through them. So much in between has happened.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Curt Mekemson Says:

        My mind boggles at organizing the photos I have taken in the last ten years. 🙂 Then there were the few thousand my dad took after I had grown up. (I did cut those down to a few hundred.) –Curt


  3. Andrew Says:

    Things come too easily to most of us nowadays. The desire for the camera, the discipline of the work and the joy of the tips – no instant gratification – hence the value of the photos. No, click, view delete / save. A week to see the results! Even in the 60s we sent films off by post and they came back days later, often disappointing but sometimes the cause of great excitement and maybe hilarity. Dad processed his own B&W and taught me to do so.

    Grass is a fine writer – I have read Blechtrommel more than once. I don’t know The Box. Please let me know if it is good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Colour film used to be sent to Melbourne for processing, a thousand Km away.
      I did my own processing b/w for a while. When my dad died we found lots of colour processing equipment in a spare room but not a single colour photo. He was very keen on short wave radio talk.
      I have yet to start on Grass’ The Box’. It is a book on how his eight children experienced their father always busy with his work.
      I’ll let you know.


  4. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Fascinating story of your family getting ready to migrate. I enmeshed my self in photography for some years during my decorating business. Had several film cameras with lenses and even a lens which took rapidfire shots. We were traveling a lot in those years too, so it was good to take a lot of pictures. Now with a small digital point and shoot, I take hardly any, and even they would not pass judgment. Now who wants all those old outdated cameras? I had one of those accordion type cameras and yes, it is a Leica.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I bought a Russian camera once from, of all places, the local chemist shop. I had booked a trip to Russia and as I was flying with Aeroflot I thought I go Russian all the way with a sturdy Russian camera.
      I have a box somewhere with photos taken by that camera. The shutter on the camera was so powerful it re-coiled causing each shot to double expose on the left hand side.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. nonsmokingladybug Says:

    Oh I remember all the rolls of film that we had in the suitcase when we came back from vacation. When we were young, there were times when couldn’t develope them all at once and did it in sessions.


  6. stuartbramhall Says:

    I love Gunther Grass. The Tin Drum was fabulous. I’ll have to look for The Box in the library.


  7. rod Says:

    Was the photograph of the family taken with a box-type camera?
    By 1975 I was using a cheap SLR (Zenith) made in Russia.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      That photo was taken by the Agfa Clack. It was also a box camera but not as square as the original Kodak Brownie.
      It was a step up and I used that camera for years and years.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Perhaps my Russian camera was a SLR Zenith. It seems to ring a bell. It was amazingly sturdy and robust. The photos I took were all taken in Russia, many in front of the Winter/Hermitage in St. Petersburg. It was during the Mikhail Gorbachev period when all of Russia was elated and in a state of high excitement. (and unreal expectations).


  8. M-R Says:

    Of course you do. And there are about a squillion other things you wish for again, eh ?
    They’ve transmogrified, Gerard … 🙂


  9. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    I too have some serrated edge photos from my first camera and remember the excitement of getting them developed. Later I learned to do it myself.

    I saw your recent comment on Rod’s post, Gerard, and just wanted to extend my sympathy. The fates are indeed cruel and without reason.


  10. Lottie Nevin Says:

    What a charming story, Gerard. I smiled when I read about the grapes – my mother used to get so cross when I pulled the grapes off the stalk like that. She insisted that we cut them because she said it made the bunch look messy! Of course there are some things that never change – years after my mother’s demise, I still pick the grapes off and never cut them and I still pull the sleeves of my jumper through the neck and I still have loads of terrible habits that she tried so hard to stop me from doing. I’m so glad that you managed to save up all your tips and buy your camera. I don’t think that we ever forget our first camera do we? Such a magical, mysterious piece of kit, so full of hope and promise!


  11. Patti Kuche Says:

    Gerard, have you seen the film Pecker? Love to know what you think! As for getting that excitement back, it’s a little like the photos themselves in that we have to content ourselves with the memories.

    On another note, I have a Canon Selphy which prints 4 x 6 wirelessly straight from my phone. It’s the first printer I’ve had that I haven’t wanted to take a gun to and shoot it to smithereens. Print quality is pretty darn good.


  12. gerard oosterman Says:

    I have two printers. One is a Samsung laser in b/w only. The other a canon Pixma print and scan. Most of the photos in my little pieces are old one which I used to take photograps of and post on my articles, till Andrew reminded me to get a scanner which I was so happy about. So my second printer the Canon Pixma is what I use now to scan the old photos.
    I haven’t seen Pecker yet but want to see a Russian movie Levitian.
    You are right, memories are nurturing the present. My pole- vaulting days are past and will just have to be happy with slow waltzing.
    What about you Patti? Still vaulting or taking it easier? I always look forward to your next lot on NYC.


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