So much has developed from a Baby Brownie

MY shirt-pocket digital camera has no flash, no monitor, and precious few megapixels, so I defensively tell people it's my Baby Brownie. I'm just taking snapshots.

Since Kodak stopped making the classic Baby Brownie in 1941, I feel I have to explain to junior citizens that it was a one-speed, fixed-focus camera made of Bakelite. When my folks plunked down $1 for it - the equivalent of 20 ice-cream cones - I don't think our town knew what I have since learned: It was the first injected-plastic camera, and the design (by Walter Dorwin Teague) was art deco.

Who wouldn't have liked it? I compare my digital to a Baby Brownie because, as Sam Goldwyn once said of a modest film, "Its simplicity lies in its greatness."

Even a no-frills digital, however, has thrust me into a world unimaginable yet oddly familiar to one who came out of the closet, the one his parents let him turn into a darkroom. They had a big old (pre-Baby) Box Brownie. It became the lens of a homemade enlarger, sliding in a sleeve of plywood to focus the projected negative.

Ah, the sight of an emerging print (What an angle shot on that birdhouse!) in the developing tray in the safelight's red glow. Ah, the smell of the hypo that would fix the image on the genuine Kodak paper.

Some things a fellow doesn't forget. Maybe not only fellows. In today's TV commercials a woman is often explaining technology to a retro man. I wasn't sure how long I could stick with my elementary digital when I saw this dish - not the 500-channel kind - telling the stunned old boy he should have at least four megapixels. That's if he wanted sharp resolution.

Lesser resolution is no surprise when you use a box camera as an enlarger. Sometimes you could improve a print by overexposing or underexposing. Now I transfer photos to the computer by simply connecting it to the digital camera. Then I'm in a darkroom without turning the lights out. Click for brightening. Click for color balance. Click for sharpness. Click to remove red-eye. Click for cropping.

When you've put your peak results on a CD, take it to a drugstore and print them out on genuine Kodak paper, 29 cents each if you get more than 20. I could go on. But instead I've switched to the Internet to see who else remembers the Baby Brownie.

Gloryosky! to quote a comic strip of those days. There it is on eBay. "Baby Brownie" brings up some 400 links. And there's the Baby Brownie Special, the upscale successor that went for $1.25. One store offers a Baby Brownie Special T-shirt for $17.99, not to mention mugs, coasters, and mousepads.

Have we come full circle? Selling a computer accessory to celebrate a 70-year-old camera?

I'd like to know if someone will be celebrating my baby digital 70 years from now. Mousepads will be a thing of the past. What could possibly be 21st-century enough to be retailed in an old-fashioned digital's memory?

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