Through the Lens
Monday, April 11, 2011 at 11:03AM
Anne Ylvisaker in 1929, Brownie, Kodak, The Luck of the Buttons, Writing Process, camera

Tugs looked down through her camera’s viewfinder and pivoted slowly all the way around and down and up. It was like watching a movie, seeing the bandstand, the bakery, the soft evening sky go by in that tiny frame. These were the same ordinary sights she’d been seeing her whole life, but suddenly they were sharp and beautiful, like little jewels collected in a box. (The Luck of the Buttons, p 102)

My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Box, the Hawkeye model. It was my summer of being twelve and Dutch Elm Disease was rampant in Minneapolis. City workers painted red lines around the trunks of doomed trees on the boulevards on my street, and though the infected trees appeared healthy, they were to be cut down within the week.

I remember standing in the middle of the street looking down through the lens of my Brownie at the long rows of elms. I noticed for the first time the perfect arch they made of the three-block length of 47th Avenue. I couldn’t save our beloved trees, but the act of taking a picture made me feel empowered, like I was witnessing and preserving a small piece of my neighborhood’s history. 

It was a piece of Kodak camera history that led me to setting The Luck of the Buttons in the year 1929. The first Brownie came out in 1900 and was made expressly to put photography in the hands of children. In 1930, to celebrate the company's 50th Anniversary, Kodak gave free Brownie cameras to children who turned twelve that year. 

I set my story in 1929 because I wanted Tugs to have a camera before most of her friends. I chose the Number 2 F Model for Tugs, which came in five colors. She was able to get her favorite color, green. And, lucky me, I found one just like it on ebay. 82 years old and it still works!

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